Let's be honest. There was a lot to be concerned about after Wednesday night's loss against North Dakota State. Don't get me wrong, the Bisons are a quality team, but after letting a mid-major opponent control a game in Notre Dame's lifeless house for the third loss of the season before back-to-back tough games, it was fair to question where this program was headed the rest of this season under Mike Brey.
For his biggest detractors, Wednesday night was the beginning of a tailspin for Brey at Notre Dame, an increasingly lifeless program about to embark into a new conference in which it didn't know how to win. But since that game, capped off with tonight's victory over Indiana, Brey reminded everyone what makes him so great.
During interviews and on his radio show, he held himself completely accountable for the loss, maintaining his to-a-fault honesty that is ridiculously rare in his profession. He urged his team to stay loose offensively and get back their confidence, reverting to the "cheerleader" role to which his players often respond.
Today, he was tactically on point, as his team had a great sense of when to push the gas and when to press the brakes. He even slowed down the game towards the end, a (frustrating) gamble that paid off as his team got big stop after big stop while getting to one of their biggest strengths, the free throw line. And on Saturday, he adapted his lineup as he has so often before, with great results.
Mike Brey opened up his bench, especially in the first half, as nine players logged important minutes. The insertion of suddenly confident big men Zach Auguste and Tom Knight paid dividends as the Irish opened a double-digit first half lead, which they needed every bit of as the game tightened. His team responded with 40 complete minutes in a coast-to-coast victory.
Once again, Jerian Grant led the Irish in scoring (23 pts) and assists (8), including a clutch 11 of 11 from the free throw line. Pat Connaughton contributed 16 points and 8 boards of his own, while Garrick Sherman chipped in 16 and 5.
On the other end, Notre Dame forced 14 turnovers and held Indiana to just 43% from the field while ceding a very narrow rebounding margin to one of the best rebounding teams in the nation thus far. Yogi Ferrell struggled, Noah Vonleh was mostly a non-factor, and the only major concern was a red-hot Will Sheehey.
Notre Dame needed this one. Mike Brey needed this one. And like he seems to do every year during the regular season, Brey pushed all the right buttons to grab a tough win against a big-named opponent, even in a difficult "neutral" environment like the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Irish hope to build on this win next Saturday night as they take on the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Madison Square Garden. The game will be featured on ESPN2 at 7:30 EST.