No. 24 Notre Dame looks to remain hot vs. Saint Peter's (Dec 28, 2016)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Given five days to get away and be with family for Christmas felt in some ways like five weeks for No. 24 Notre Dame.
Given the way the Fighting Irish (10-2) ended their early stretch of games, Wednesday's non-conference finale against Saint Peter's (5-6) couldn't come soon enough.
With Atlantic Coast Conference play closing quickly - the league opener is New Year's Eve at Pittsburgh - Notre Dame needs to remain on the court. The Irish need to run and pass and move it and score and again feel good about themselves the way they did while winning their first nine, most in lopsided fashion.
Campus is closed until the third week of January. The Irish have moved out of their dorms and into a nearby hotel. It's all basketball for a team that registered a 3.1 grade-point average for the fall semester, highest since the spring of 2009.
"This is a fun time for us," junior guard Matt Farrell said. "It's just us here."
Notre Dame labored through its most challenging two weeks - in the classroom and on the court - just before the holiday break. Coupled with the usual assortment of papers and projects that were due leading into finals, the Irish had their toughest non-league tests - against No. 1 Villanova and No. 15 Purdue.
Notre Dame failed both. That still stings.
"We want to bounce back," Farrell said. "We've got guys that are focused to do what we've got to do. We're excited to be back."
It would be easy to look past the Peacocks and focus on the Panthers, but the Irish know better.
Knowing they have to be a whole lot better than they were before leaving for Christmas break prohibits anyone from thinking ACC. There's still a lot to fix today before worrying about Wednesday.
Back on Dec. 19, Notre Dame committed a season-high 14 turnovers in a 15-point victory over Colgate. The game was sluggish in spots, sloppy in others. Getting out of town and home the next day was good for all, but the get-away game left them feeling they have plenty to prove before league play commences.
Wednesday gives the Irish a chance to be better. For them, league play really starts with Saint Peter's. Who is Notre Dame going to be over the next three months? The Irish can start to show it.
Notre Dame enters the final week of December ranked in the top 10 of six categories nationally, eight in the ACC. The Irish believe they're good; now it's time to show it for the next two-plus months.
"Our attention to detail has to be at an all-time high this week," said sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, who's played 210 minutes over 11 games without a turnover. "We had some great mojo when we were winning our first nine games. We had great mojo in the first two halves of the games we lost.
"We need to get back to that."
Sunday was a good start. Despite everyone traveling back to campus on Christmas night, the Irish held as solid a practice session as they've had in weeks. Players seemed refreshed by the break, and ready to focus on the grind that awaits.
It starts Wednesday.
"We've got to get after it again," freshman guard T.J. Gibbs said. "We've got to get back into character, get back to us."