In a year where Mike Brey and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are breaking in so many new faces to the program, their inexperience in late-game situations has shown in losses against Radford, Oklahoma, and UCLA. Losing three games by a combined 11 points is heartbreaking, but the effort the team has shown no matter what the score has to be a positive sign for Mike Brey when evaluating his team thus far.
Finding ways to win close games should be a very high priority for the Fighting Irish as the ACC will include numerous games that will be decided in the final minutes. There are many areas Notre Dame can improve upon in order to help them win close games. However, the two that stick out to me the most are making free throws as well as finding a closer to give the ball to in crucial situations.
The free throw percentages in Notre Dame’s wins versus their losses is significantly different. In their three losses, the Irish have shot a combined 24 of 36 from the foul line, good for 67%. Compare that to shooting 122 of 161, 76%, in wins. For a team that sometimes struggles to find their rhythm offensively, making their free throws is absolutely critical if they want to come out victorious in close games.
Another major hindrance to Notre Dame’s late-game success has been their inability to find a player to give the ball to that will consistently produce in clutch moments. In watching Notre Dame, it seems that at the end of games T.J. Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb are two guys who are not afraid of the big moment. Even though they can create for themselves on the offensive end of the floor, sometimes they take highly contested shots that lead to run out opportunities for the opposing team.
I do not think it would be a bad idea to put the ball in the hands of Rex Pflueger or D.J. Harvey and let them go to work. Harvey, similar to Gibbs and Hubb, can create for himself offensively, and Pflueger has a tendency to make very good decisions when the ball is in his hands.
All in all, while it was another difficult loss for Notre Dame to swallow, their resiliency and fight showed against the Bruins. Now, if they can pair that fight with consistent shooting at the charity stripe and find a go-to guy in late game situations then they are sure to find themselves on the winning side of close games sooner rather than later.
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