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January 24, 2014

Struggling Irish need road win

In Notre Dame's last three seasons in the Big East, Mike Brey's squads were outstanding at Purcell Pavilion and very competitive away from their home base.

The Irish won 24 of 27 home games in conference play from 2010-11 through 2012-13 and were a more-than-respectable 14-13 away from home.

Life on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference is proving to be a bit more problematic.

The loss of leading scorer/assist man Jerian Grant probably has more to do with Notre Dame's 0-3 record on the road in ACC play than its change of conferences. But the youth-laden Irish - five of the top nine in the rotation are underclassmen, including three freshmen - haven't been able to get over the hump away from Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish have lost by five at Georgia Tech, by eight at Maryland and by two at Florida State Tuesday night.

A loss Saturday afternoon in Wake Forest's Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum would mark the first time the Irish have lost their first four conference road games since 2006-07.

"It (would) really help to get one," said Brey of a road victory. "This older group has been used to winning on the road. If we can get one, your group starts to feel good and your young guys start to feel like we can do this thing.

"We're putting ourselves in position. Let's see if we can help them finish one."

The Irish have been in striking distance in each of their first three ACC road games, only to come up short down the stretch.

In the 74-69 loss at Georgia Tech, Notre Dame had a two-point lead at the final TV timeout, a two-point lead with 2:15 remaining and a one-point advantage on Garrick Sherman's lay-up at the 1:15 mark, only to be out-scored 7-1 the rest of the way.

In the 74-66 loss at Maryland, Notre Dame was within six points with 3:25 left and five points at the 1:47 mark.

In the 76-74 loss at Florida State, the Irish trailed by 10 with 7:55 remaining, but tied the game with 34 seconds remaining on Pat Connaughton's lay-up. The Seminoles' Ian Miller hit a floater in the lane with four seconds left for the final points of the game.

Even in the 77-70 home loss to North Carolina State, the Irish were within two-to-six points throughout most of the final 14 minutes of the game.

"I look around this league and I wonder what the average margin of victory is," Brey said. "I see a lot of 18-point, 20-point games. There are even some 30-point wins.

"In our four (conference) losses, we've been in that thing with a chance to win the game and fighting like heck. It comes down to a key stop at a key time. I told them in the locker room (after the Florida State loss), don't change a thing. Let's put ourselves in a position again (at Wake Forest). If we do that enough times, we're going to get our share."

The Demon Deacons' Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum might not be the ideal spot to anticipate the Irish notching their first ACC road victory. Wake Forest is one of four (out of 15) ACC schools - Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Duke are the others -- that has yet to lose at home.

Still, Brey - who seldom lets negativity infiltrate his players' minds - is optimistic that his resilient squad will put forth another great effort in Winston-Salem.

"Our morale is great," Brey said. "We've got veteran guys who do a great job with leadership. It's showed in how we've played and how we've competed. We're disappointed we've come up short, but this group goes to work every day. We'll see if we can do better in some areas as we go back on the road again.

"Kids are amazingly resilient. They just want to play and they want to be coached. I'm very proud of how we've competed and how we've put ourselves in position. I'd like us to continue to do that on Saturday and maybe we can finish one and steal it.

"We've been a confidence-giving program. I want to keep those young guys' heads up. You want to teach them. You don't want to jump down their throats because they want to be good."







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