INDIANAPOLIS – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and his players didn't change their approach during practice going into the team's game against Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday.
But there was a different buzz around the team, senior center Garrick Sherman said. The sense of urgency was through the roof for a team that would have to sit on either a 3-1 record throughout finals week or a 2-2 mark.
The Irish were fresh off a loss to North Dakota State at home on Wednesday and will play No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 21 at the Madison Square Garden. This was a crucial matchup against the flagship program in the state.
"We're not stupid," said Sherman, who had 16 points, four rebounds and four blocks in a 79-72 win for Notre Dame (8-3). "We knew we had to have this one. After we lost on Wednesday, we had to turn it around. There wasn't an option. We couldn't go into a week off, preparing for the No. 3 team in the country next week, with another loss. We just had to have this one."
The Irish got it.
IU (8-3) gave Notre Dame plenty of runs, but the Irish always had an answer. The Hoosiers never took a lead.
Veterans Sherman, Jerian Grant, who had a game-high 23 points, and Eric Atkins, who hit a big layup in the final two minutes to stretch out a one-possession lead, were the ones that made it happen.
"They're telling me sets they want to run in the second half that they felt – and it was their idea to run that one there where Atkins got the layup four-up," Brey said. "One of them mentioned that, and we hadn't run it all day. That's their feel for the game."
This was the best game of the season for Notre Dame, and it resulted in the team's best win. Brey said the team clicked this way offensively when it faced then-No. 23 Iowa in Iowa City, but the defensive stops weren't there in a 98-93 loss.
The Irish put it all together Saturday.
"Two-and-two would have been hard to swallow," Brey said. "Three-and-one gives you some life, and we don't play. We go into exams, which is important and stressful for these guys. And then we have another opportunity for another big-stage win against a great team in Ohio State in the Garden, where we're very comfortable. This group's played very well in this building last time we were in the Big East tournament."