FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey needs his team to find away to break the Ohio State machine.
The Irish (8-3) finish play in the Gotham Classic against the No. 3 Buckeyes (11-0) tonight in Madison Square Garden in their biggest challenge in nonconference play.
They really are machine-like, there is no question, Brey said of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes entered this week with one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, hitting at least 52 percent of their field goal attempts in the five games before shooting 41 percent in a 76-64 win over Delaware on Wednesday.
Ohio State has won all 11 of its games by double digits and was ranked 40th in field goal percentage entering the week at 48.7 percent.
And the Buckeyes are doing this without former Bishop Luers star Deshaun Thomas, who led the in scoring with 19.8 points per game last year but decided to turn pro after his junior season.
They kind of spread the wealth a little bit more, than one guy just getting 20 on you, Brey said of how the Buckeyes are different without Thomas. They move it around, and different guys can score the ball.
As impressive as the Buckeyes have been on offense, they have been even better on defense.
Ohio State came into the week fifth in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to 36.6 percent shooting. The defense is led by Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, who average 2.5 and 2.3 steals for a team that forces opponents into 15.6 turnovers per game.
Their perimeter does a great job guarding their guy, pressuring the ball and being able to turn people over, Brey said. We’ve got to take care of the ball. They are a group that turns you over. We’ve got to be good with the ball.
Notre Dame has the guards to handle Ohio State’s pressure in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.
Grant is seventh in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.1 and Atkins in 19th at 3.6. The Irish have turned the ball over only 109 times this season.
I’ve got two guards too, and they are experienced guys, Brey said. We are not going to make (Craft and Scott) out to be supermen. Those guys are really good players at Ohio State. I think the key is for us, our offensive efficiency is a key when we reverse the ball and get a post touch and take care of the ball. One of our traits is we take care of the ball. We don’t turn it over. We’ve got to get a good shot every time.
If Notre Dame has an edge in tonight’s game, it is the team’s experience of playing in Madison Square Garden. The Irish have made frequent trips to the Garden as members of the Big East for games against St. John’s and the conference tournament.
Brey said he hopes those experiences pay off against Ohio State.
This nucleus, the last time we played in the Garden, we played pretty well, Brey said. We have been comfortable in that in the Big East tournament, especially just this past March. There will be some Big East tournament memories, I hope, swirling around in everybody’s minds.