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November 24, 2013

Preview: Army @ Notre Dame

Story With Sidebar

Head coach

Zach Spiker (5th year at Army) - An assistant coach at Cornell for six seasons, Spiker, 37, is 54-70 in his fifth season at Army. Spiker's first year in college basketball as a graduate assistant at Winthrop (2000-01) was the same year Mike Brey started his tenure at Notre Dame - when Spiker was 23-years old. Spiker was an administrative assistant at West Virginia (2002-04) before landing his first full-time position at Cornell. By finishing 16-15 overall and 8-6 in the Patriot League last season, Spiker was named the conference's coach of the year. Spiker played his college basketball at Ithaca.

You should know
Army's 16-15 season in 2012-13 marked the first time since 1985 that the Black Knights finished above the .500 mark. Army finished fourth in the eight-team Patriot League in 2012-13. The league expanded to 10 during the off-season with the addition of Boston University from America East and Loyola from the MAAC…Athlon Sports projected Army to finish sixth in the Patriot League this season…In two of Army's three losses, the Black Knights have allowed halftime leads to slip away. They were leading Air Force, 30-28, before surrendering 51 second-half points. Army led New Jersey Institute of Technology (N.J.I.T.), 50-46, only to lose, 89-85…Army launched a school-record 44 three-pointers (making just 12) in the 79-68 loss to the Falcons in the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Ky…The Black Knights used 17 players in the 84-69 victory over the Citadel…Army converted just 2-of-21 three-point attempts in its 89-74 loss to Delaware, a future Irish opponent and Mike Brey's first-head coaching stop.

Top losses

Ella Ellis (17.7 ppg., 3.8 rpg.; .852 FT, .419 3-point); Kyle Toth (8.2 ppg.)

Top players

G-Kyle Wilson (6-4, 190, Soph.) - After averaging 13.0 points per game and being named Patriot League rookie of the year, Wilson has taken it up a couple of notches, tossing in 17.5 points per game while converting .923 (12-of-13) from the free-throw line. He scored 26 points against NJIT and 20 versus Citadel. Wilson has converted just 6-of-27 three-point attempts (.222).
F-Kevin Ferguson (6-10, 200, Soph.) - The long and lean Ferguson is doing most of the work on the backboards for the Cadets, averaging 7.0 rebounds per game with a team-leading 11 offensive caroms. He had 14 points and 11 rebounds against Delaware. He's averaging 8.8 points per game.

Inside the Irish

The Irish bounced back from a disappointing home loss to Indiana State with a solid 84-69 victory over Santa Clara, although it took a 12-0 run midway through the second half to pull away from the Broncos (2-2). Mike Brey used his small, active lineup of Austin Burgett, Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and Eric Atkins to create the separation. Four Irish players scored in double figures, led by Jerian Grant's 20 points (on 8-of-15 shooting). Garrick Sherman turned in a solid performance with 16 points and eight rebounds (four on the offensive end).

Atkins also tossed in 16 points to move past Jack Cooley into a tie for 50th (1,029 points) with Bruce Flowers (1975-79) on the all-time Irish scoring list. Next up for Atkins are Bob Devine (1,043) and Ben Hansbrough (1,044). Burgett stuffed the stat sheet with six points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals, a blocked shot, five personal fouls and just one turnover in 22 minutes of action.

The Irish continue to have trouble defending the three-pointer as Santa Clara converted 10-of-22 after Indiana State's 11-of-20 from beyond the arc. The Irish did, however, clean up on the backboards with a 42-25 advantage. The 16 offensive rebounds give the Irish 33 over the last two games.

Notre Dame was an outstanding 23-of-27 from the free-throw line (.852), including 5-of-5 by Demetrius Jackson, who scored a career-high 13 points. Jackson was 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, including a long-range shot at the 9:00 mark that gave the Irish a double-digit lead for the rest of the game. He also came up with a loose ball in the paint that led to a Burgett dunk. Jackson's two free throws gave the Irish their largest lead (16) with 8:03 remaining.

Prister's take

Typical of a Mike Brey-coached Notre Dame team, the Irish bounced back after a sub-par performance against Indiana State, withstanding a pesky Santa Clara team and pulling away for a comfortable home victory late Friday night.

It wasn't smooth sailing throughout. There were 12 lead changes in the first half, and after taking a 10-point lead late in the first half, the Broncos cut the deficit to four points on a couple of occasions before Brey's small, speedy lineup pulled away.

The Irish will have their hands full in an area that remains a concern - three-point defense - when Army arrives at Purcell Pavilion Sunday. The Cadets have launched 135 three-point attempts (33.75 per game), converting 36 (9.0). But they're shooting just .266 through four games.

When the Irish play teams that love to hoist the rock from beyond the arc, Brey now has a lineup he can turn to, including a smaller unit that rebounded very well against Santa Clara.

Friday's performance against Santa Clara was a confidence booster for the Irish. Army probably isn't a legitimate threat to knock off the Irish, but after last Sunday's setback, Notre Dame won't have another letdown.

Pointspread: NL
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 90, Army 61
Prister's record: 3-1 straight up; 2-1 vs. points


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