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  • Associated Press Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs said the Irish need to be less complacent against Duke than they were against Virginia on Saturday. The Irish battle the No. 2 Blue Devils tonight at Purcell Pavilion.

Monday, January 28, 2019 1:00 am

It's not getting easier for Irish

No. 2 Duke next up for team that has dropped 4 straight

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame vs. Duke

Where: Purcell Pavilion

When: 7 p.m. today

Records: Notre Dame (11-9, 1-6 ACC), Duke (17-2, 5-1)

TV: ESPN

Notre Dame was stunned from the opening tip against No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, falling behind 12-0 and losing by 27 as the Cavaliers “kicked our ass” in the words of guard T.J. Gibbs.

The loss left the Irish, who have dropped four games in a row, dazed. It threw into stark relief how far they may have to go before they are on the level of the ACC's best.

By a twist of scheduling fate, they'll have another chance today to show that they're closer to the conference's elite teams than it looked on Saturday. Just two days after playing the Cavaliers, Notre Dame will host No. 2 Duke and its trio of likely NBA lottery picks: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.

After being far less competitive than he would have hoped against Virginia, coach Mike Brey said he planned to have his team practice hard at 8 a.m. Sunday morning to get the competitive juices flowing again. The session wasn't planned to last too long, just enough to get the players back into a good mindset after a loss Brey called “demoralizing.”

The combination of the practice and another top-tier opponent sets the stage for a much better performance, the coach said.

“I think we'll bounce back good, I think we will, I really do,” Brey said. “We've got really good, high-character guys. I know we all felt bad walking out of there (against Virginia) and I think they'll bounce back really well.”

Just playing well does not guarantee Notre Dame (11-9, 1-6 ACC) will be able to stay in the game with the second-ranked Blue Devils. Duke (17-2, 6-1) is the only team to beat Virginia this season and boasts the ACC's top two scorers in Barrett (23.9 points per game) and Williamson (21.7).

The Blue Devils are a freshman-led team: each of its top four scorers is in his first year in college basketball and three of them were top 5 recruits in the 2018 class. Although Barrett is the more prolific scorer, Williamson is the headliner of that group.

The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward has been an Internet sensation because of his acrobatic dunks since he was in high school.

He is shooting 67 percent from the field while grabbing a team-best 9.3 rebounds, blocking 1.8 shots and picking up 2.0 steals per game. He is the presumptive No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft.

“He's a physical specimen,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Williamson. “He's like Charles Barkley was, except he shoots better than Charles did.”

Notre Dame will have to be much better defensively than it was against Virginia in order to slow down the Blue Devils. Duke averages more than 88 points per game, No. 3 in the country, and shoots 58.8 percent on 2-point attempts. 

Against Virginia, there were spurts where Notre Dame would play well for several possessions in a row, but the Irish couldn't sustain it over longer stretches. That is the key against Duke, in Gibbs' mind.

“We have to focus on locking in,” Gibbs said. “We have lapses where we can go in and out and that starts with our leadership. It starts with me and John (Mooney) and the other older guys to not get complacent with where we are (in a game).”

Notre Dame could have some success if it can force Duke to shoot from the outside. The Blue Devils make less than 31 percent of their 3-pointers, ranked 310th nationally, and went just 2 for 21 against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Duke still beat the Yellow Jackets 66-53, but that is the blueprint for an upset.

Not falling behind 12-0 would help, as well.

dsinn@jg.net