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December 13, 2012

Living (and not dying) by the 3

They say that teams that like to shoot three-pointers a high percentage of the time often shoot themselves out of games.

That’s true. But teams that shoot a high percentage of three-pointers, and then go down to the other end of the floor and defend three-point shots well provide ample opportunities for success.

Nine games into the season, No. 22/24 Notre Dame (8-1) ranks 46th nationally in three-point shooting percentage at .382 (66-of-173) while ranking 141st (out of 345) in three-point defense at .318 (48-of-151).

Notre Dame held its 34 opponents in 2011-12 to just .314 shooting from beyond the arc.

“Defending that arc has become important to us because it can be such a deal breaker in a game,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.

“When a team scorches you from three-point - they get double-digit threes - there’s a good chance you’re going to lose. So we try to really be aware of that.”

On the offensive end, the Irish have had a balanced three-point attack. Two seasons ago, when Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis were Notre Dame’s most frequent launchers from three-point range, the Irish rode their long-distance touch to a 27-7 record.

Hansbrough made 87 three-pointers and connected on .435 from beyond the arc. Abromaitis nailed 78 three-pointers and converted .429.

When Hansbrough left after the 2010-11 season and Abromaitis suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the 2011-12 campaign, Notre Dame’s three-point shooting took a significant hit. The Irish shot just .332 from beyond the arc last year after connecting on .386 in 2010-11.

The early returns in 2012-13 are very promising. Although Notre Dame doesn’t have a dominant three-point shooter like Hansbrough and/or Abromaitis, they’ve done it with balance.

The Irish have five players in double-digit three-pointers, all ranging from 11-to-14 three-pointers made.

A career .300 three-point shooter prior to this season, sixth-year senior Scott Martin leads the group with a .452 percentage (14-of-31). Eric Atkins has become a better and more frequent shooter from beyond the arc (.423, 11-of-16) while Jerian Grant (.406, 13-of-32) has improved his accuracy after leading the Irish in three-pointers made in 2011-12 with 57 (and a .354 percentage).

Adding to the mix this season are freshman Cameron Biedscheid (.371, 13-of-35), who has been on fire of late. He’s connected on 11-of-18 since a 2-of-17 start. Sophomore Pat Connaughton has struggled with his accuracy (.311) after shooting .342 as a freshman. But he’s the fifth player with double-digit three-pointers with 11.

“I’ll take whatever helps us win, and this is how this group is successful,” Brey said. “They’re balanced. They really embrace that.

“Those five guys take a lot of pride on playing together, rolling with a guy who’s going good. Guys are secure enough that if they’re not involved offensively for a while, they don’t force anything because they know it’s going to come back around to them. Balance is always a good thing in the long run because it’s hard to figure out what to take away.”

The Irish would appear to have a good chance of beefing up their three-point defense numbers Saturday against Purdue (4-5) in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. The Boilermakers have converted just .262 (39-of-149) of their three-point attempts this season with just one player (Terone Johnson) converting above 40 percent.

One player the Irish have to keep an eye on Saturday is D.J. Byrd, who hit six three-pointers in the first half against Clemson.

“Byrd has gone off to win a game this year,” Brey said. “Sometimes in a game like this in this atmosphere, you ignore their percentages because they’ll shoot it better than they have been shooting. So we always have to be aware of that because that can be the great equalizer.”

The Irish have worked hard at improving their three-point defense after allowing a .353 conversion rate in 2010-11.

“We’ve got really smart players, so when we talk about our ‘green awareness’ -- green being our call for really defending the arc - it’s team awareness,” Brey said. “It’s not just who’s going to guard someone like Byrd.

“Our group has been really good at recognizing transition and getting out on the shooters and chasing them off the line - making them shot fake and be two-point shooters. It’s something we rep a lot in practice, and we have some really sharp guys who have digested that. It’s kept us out of trouble.”


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