Notre Dame’s Jan. 28 loss at Georgia Tech has stayed with the 21st-ranked Irish.
Much like head coach Mike Brey’s team felt it owed Florida State for a January loss — ultimately avenged with a convincing Notre Dame win at Purcell Pavilion in February — the Irish are looking to even the score Sunday (6:30 p.m., ESPNU) against the Yellow Jackets.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game after what happened down there,” junior guard Matt Farrell said.
Ranked No. 14 at the time, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech were within one or two possessions of each other throughout the second half. With seven seconds left and the score tied, Farrell missed a short jumper.
Georgia Tech took the ensuing rebound the length of the floor and freshman guard Josh Okogie scored a fastbreak layup as time expired to take a 62-60 win. The loss for Notre Dame was its second in what would become a four-game losing streak.
“For our guys they will want to play well because that one hurt,” Brey said. “We had the ball with a chance, maybe we didn’t deserve that, but we were there and they made a great play. We weren’t as alert as we needed to be defensively. For our guys, that’s the most down and upset I saw them. They were mad at how they played and how they finished.”
Junior guard Tadric Jackson scored a career-high 25 points and junior center Ben Lammers had 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in the win.
The Yellow Jackets are now 16-12 overall and 7-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with three games remaining, firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first season under head coach Josh Pastner.
In the last two-plus seasons, only one team has swept Notre Dame in both regular season games. That was Miami, which took a pair of games from the Irish last season.
For that success against repeat opponents to continue, the Irish will likely have to win another close game. The previous seven matchups between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech as ACC members have been decided by an average of 4.1 points.
“I guess we have created a rivalry as a repeat opponent,” Brey said. “I don’t know, maybe both teams playing well at the same time, I can’t really put my finger on it.”
YELLOW JACKETS A TOURNEY TEAM?
Picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC, Pastner’s team has a real shot at qualifying for the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish to the regular season.
“They’ve had a fantastic year,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “It’s shown. I’m hoping they make the NCAA Tournament.”
“I think they’re one of the really great stories, not just for the conference, but in college basketball,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Josh has done a great job with his staff and it’s a great story.”
Because of the Jan. 28 win at McCamish Pavilion, Brey definitely believes Georgia Tech should be in. The Yellow Jackets host Pittsburgh and play at Syracuse following their trip to South Bend.
“He’s done some really unique things on both ends of the floor,” Brey said of Pastner. “With what they’re doing with their triangle stuff offensively is a difficult preparation. It’s very, very hard to guard. And then the changing zone defenses and then you’ve got the rim protector in Lammers back there, they’re hard to score against. They’re just a really tough preparation and it certainly isn’t a fluke.”
PFLUEGER EARNS MORE STARTS
According to Brey, Notre Dame will start sophomore guard Rex Pflueger for the third straight game Sunday against the Yellow Jackets.
Pflueger came off the bench for the first 24 games of the season before being inserted into the starting lineup for the Wake Forest game Feb. 7. In his three starts this season, the 6-6, 202-pounder has averaged 3.7 points and 3.7 rebounds.
“For now, yes, we’ll definitely do that on Sunday,” Brey said of Pflueger’s place in the lineup. “Kind of like how that has progressed. Always an option at halftime, do you do something different? But we definitely do that Sunday.”