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ND MENS BASKETBALL: Confidence, youth at odds as Irish show 'lack of focus' in loss to Seminoles

Jan. 13—SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame's first year basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry has explained the several different ways he has tried to get this year's Irish team to play consistent basketball.

Whether its halftime adjustments like playing music or what time he goes in to talk to the team at the intermission, the one thing he can't seem to avoid, is his team's youth.

"It's a talent issue because we have young talent, we make young mistakes," Shrewsberry said. "We're in games, we're playing in games, we're doing the right things. I'm not an excuse maker; [you] deal with what you got. We've had a chance to win every single game in this league if we just do what we're supposed to do."

In Notre Dame's Saturday afternoon matchup against Florida State, the Irish were undersized against the Seminoles (10-6, 4-1 ACC) and failed to avoid large deficits in what became the Noles fourth consecutive win, using a 6-0 run to cap the 67-58 victory over the home Irish (7-10, 2-4 ACC).

All Irish parties agreed after the game, it was a lack of focus.

"Unfortunately, yes," Shrewsberry said on if he could sense the lack of focus entering Saturday. "There are no excuses. We don't make excuses; we have to play the game no matter what happens. I thought the moment that Tae Davis got hurt in practice yesterday, the air just left the entire building. We were super energetic leading up to that point. We were guarding our asses off in what we were doing and he went down and it sucked the air out of the building and we never got it back."

Davis, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who remains day-to-day after what's believed to be a sprained ankle, would have made a "huge difference" according to freshman guard Markus Burton (20 points Saturday). Florida State's size helped the visitors block seven shots, as well as dominate the first half offensive glass.

The lead changed multiple times between the Seminoles and Irish in the first 10 minutes of Saturday's action. Eventually, the Irish offense forced FSU to go 1-of-14 from the floor, taking the largest Notre Dame lead of 24-20 with over five minutes to play.

Florida State took the lead back until Burton's triple put the Irish down 31-29. A second-chance layup, a theme for the Noles first half, gave the visitors a 33-29 halftime lead.

FSU overwhelmingly controlled the offensive board with a 10-4 advantage. The Seminoles sent four bodies flying to the rim each time the ball was put up. Those second chances given up, and a woeful 1-of-8 shooting at the free throw line for the Irish (who finished 3-of-11), helped give Florida State the edge at the half.

"Florida State does a great job of playing well in gaps and causing chaos on defense and a lot of turnovers," junior guard J.R. Konieczny (11 points Saturday) said. "They kind of play off and stunt every time you drive into the gaps."

Those drives worked early, but were shut down in the second half as Florida State raced out to a 41-29 lead at the 16:00 minute mark of the second period. Coming out of the locker room slow is something the young Irish haven't studied well enough yet.

"A lot of the time we come out flat; just like JR said, sometimes we're not focused," Burton said before referencing the Irish's last game, a 75-68 overtime win on the road against Georgia Tech Tuesday. "In Atlanta, we were locked in from the get-go."

Notre Dame made strides throughout the second half. Double-digit Florida State leads become two possession games and brought the crowd to its feet. With just a minute to play, Notre Dame had its smallest hole of the second half, trailing 61-58. Florida State's 6-0 run ended the comeback bid.

"We have that extra gear, we're using that extra gear to catch up and then we're running out of juice," Shrewsberry said. "We're using that extra juice to come back, we shouldn't be putting ourselves in that hole and that's where we need to do better."

"That's another game that we should have won if we do what we had to do."

Konieczny agreed on Notre Dame's assurance each game to make a run and stay competitive, but not enough to climb over the hump.

"I think a lot of it happens to do with energy," Konieczny said. "We just gotta find a way for everybody to bring that juice to get everyone riled up ready to play."

Notre Dame is one of youngest teams in the country this season, returning just over one percent of last year's production. That youth continues to shine in moments like the home loss to The Citadel, and in small mistakes like losing a well-known 3-point shooter Saturday.

There are positives though in this year of learning. The Irish have navigated patches of dry spells in-game to climb back into them. Florida State countered all of Notre Dame's comeback bids Saturday with runs of its own. Still, the Irish found a way to sneak back in.

To Shrewsberry, it's about finding that "confidence" and getting the consistent energy and performance out of the full roster.

In the first half, Notre Dame was 6-of-12 from behind the arc. In the second half, the Irish missed several open looks and were 3-of-14.

Notre Dame has a quick turnaround, traveling to Chestnut Hill, Mass. for a Monday showdown with Boston College. Both the Irish and Eagles are the lone ACC teams to play conference games one day apart of each other.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Florida State — 33 34 — 67

Notre Dame — 29 29 — 58

Reach Matt Lucas at 574-533-2151, ext. 240325, or at matt.lucas@goshennews.com.