It’s lonely at the top, particularly when you think back to the game and the moves you could have made as head coach to avoid an upset loss to North Dakota State at home.
Mike Brey was that lonely guy in the wee hours of the morning - 3 a.m. according to his calculations - second-guessing himself for his defensive approach in Notre Dame’s 73-69 loss to North Dakota State Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
“We’re always trying to find a balance point between man and zone, and last night, we had a guy who was really on a tear,” said Brey, referring to the Bison’s Marshall Bjorkland, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound senior who repeatedly posted up and scored inside en route to a 26-point performance.
“I think I could have helped my team a lot more in the second half, probably get into a zone earlier than the four-and-a-half minute mark to make some other guys shoot the ball.”
What Brey couldn’t get out of his head was the way the third loss of the season began. TrayVonn Wright, Taylor Braun and Lawrence Alexander all hit three-pointers within the first eight minutes as the Bison connected on 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
After that, Brey was determined not to allow another visiting opponent to heat up and take advantage of the friendly shooting background at Purcell Pavilion, where nine teams have shot 37.5 percent (71-of-189), including 5-of-10 by North Dakota State, 10-of-23 by Delaware, 10-of-22 by Santa Clara, and 11-of-20 by Indiana State. Excluding Army’s 5-of-25 shooting from three-point range, Notre Dame’s eight other opponents are shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Brey said assistant coaches Anthony Solomon, Rod Balanis and Martin Ingelsby were in his ear making suggestions about defensive changes, but he didn’t pull the trigger until late.
“It’s not just zone, come and double him and make somebody else shoot the ball,” Brey lamented. “That’s something I kick myself for and we all did as a staff that we didn’t more aggressively say, ‘Let’s just see if somebody else can shoot.’
“I was gun-shy because we started the game that way and they kicked out and knocked some threes down. But you get to a point at the four-and-a-half minute mark where you say, ‘Something else has got to happen,’ and it gave us opportunities. I wonder what it would have looked like had we got in it at the 10-minute mark.”
Compounding Brey’s indecision was Notre Dame’s own inability to shoot well from three-point range. The Irish managed just 9-of-29 shooting from beyond the stripe (31.0 percent), including a 5-of-15 performance by Pat Connaughton and a combined 0-of-5 between seniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.
“A lot of times when we change that defense, it helps you offensively because you’re not chasing stagger screens and not having to bang with a heckuva low post scorer,” said Brey, who said the Irish likely won’t see a low-post player as accomplished as Bjorkland the rest of the season.
“You kind of go back and forth, but I really put last night a lot on me. I could have helped us more with a change of defense earlier, and I told (the players) that after the game.”