FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey had one goal for the last week the men’s basketball team would play on campus.
He wanted to make it special for a senior class that endured a difficult season that went in the wrong direction starting with the Irish letting a game slip away in a 64-61 loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 21. That was followed by the loss of senior guard Jerian Grant for the spring semester because of academic reasons and the unexpected transfer of sophomore forward Cam Biedscheid, who was expected to preserve a year of eligibility this season but instead left for Missouri.
Brey’s final-week plan started on the right note as he picked up his 300th victory at Notre Dame with Wednesday’s 65-62 home win over Georgia Tech, and the Irish (15-14, 6-10 ACC) will try to get another win for seniors Eric Atkins, Garrick Sherman, Tom Knight and Patrick Crowley when the play host to Pittsburgh (21-7, 13-4) today on Senior Night.
We talked about this being senior week, not just senior day Saturday, Brey said. I was really pleased with how our seniors kind of led us (Wednesday). That has been our focus. I think they know they have a great challenge then on Monday (in the season finale at North Carolina) and a chance for a good win.
But before the final challenge of the regular season and the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., from Match 12 to 16, the Irish will say goodbye to the senior class on their home floor.
And one graduating player will be particularly difficult for Brey to say goodbye to when the season ends – Atkins, the Irish’s point guard.
The 6-foot-2, 182-pounder will make his 102nd start today and play in his 130th game for Notre Dame. Atkins is averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 assists this season after averaging 9.7 points and 2.5 assists in his first three seasons.
I’ve got a lot of favorite guys, he’s right up there, special, steady and get it right away as a freshman, Brey said of Atkins. He’s been an unbelievable representative for us and ambassador, just a good guy.
(Sherman) was teasing me back in the fall. He said, You always have a love affair with your point guards.’ And that is true. I mean, I was one. I’ve been really connected to those guys, starting with (current Notre Dame assistant) Martin Inglesby, even though I only had him for a year. But I don’t know if I’ve been more connected to a guy than Eric. He’s had an amazing career for us.
Brey will try to get as much time as he can with Atkins and the rest of the seniors by taking advantage of a nine-day break between the end of the season and the conference tournament.
And Brey said the seniors will be the key to keeping Notre Dame’s season going as long as possible.
I’d love to see our seniors continue to set the tone for us, Brey said. I think it is really in their hands how we finish and rightfully so. I just think Tom, Sherm and Eric kind of set the tone for us, not only Saturday but the rest of the way.