“I’ve been through Atlanta a lot to deal with Georgia Tech,” said Brey, who also frequented Atlanta as a Duke assistant coach from 1987-95. “But, great town. It probably won’t be 20 degrees, and that’s a win.”
Widely admired and respected for his on-court success, humble manner and gregarious personality, Brey is worthy to be celebrated for a historic 23-year run at Notre Dame, where he has led a team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years at the time of his hire in 1990 to 13 NCAA appearances while becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach.
“I love coach Brey,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said Monday. “Awesome human being, awesome coach, awesome program. Just one of the great guys in the entire business.”
Pastner has cited often Brey’s “get old and stay old” model as his vision for Tech, a concept that has proven difficult to replicate.
“He’s as good as you get, and the league’s going to miss him,” Pastner said. “College basketball’s going to miss him.”
However, for both Notre Dame and Tech, it has not been a time for festivity, as their respective seasons have not offered much grounds for such activity. Wednesday’s game will be a meeting of the league’s teams occupying 13th place (Notre Dame) and last place (Tech) in the standings. Tech (8-15, 1-12 ACC) has absorbed nine consecutive losses, its longest losing streak since the 1980-81 season. Ten of the Jackets’ 12 league defeats have been by double digits. Pastner’s job security diminishes with each defeat.
Brey and Notre Dame leadership made the mutual decision for this season to be his last in no small part because of the dwindling results, this season In particular. High hopes attended the Irish and Brey after a 24-11 record and NCAA berth a year ago. However, picked before the season to finish sixth in the league, Notre Dame (10-13, 2-10) has managed league wins over only Tech and fellow laggard Louisville.
“Both teams are searching, both teams are trying to figure it out, get more confident,” Brey said.
On Wednesday night, one team will know the relief of a much-needed win, the other will continue its agonizing course.
“You’ve got to be solution-oriented and solution-focused,” said Pastner, who has tried 11 different starting lineups this season, in part because of injuries and also because of his search for an answer. “And I think that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to find ways to break through the barrier.”
The teams’ shared adversities lend a different type of desperation to a series that has been most entertaining since Notre Dame joined the ACC, particularly the games at McCamish. All of the nine games at Tech’s home arena have been decided by seven points or fewer. In six of them, the final margin has been three points or fewer or decided in overtime. Tech has won six of the nine. The most memorable was Tech’s 2017 win, a 62-60 upset won on a Josh Okogie layup as time expired. In the teams’ first meeting this year, the Jackets lost in overtime to the Irish on Jan. 10 in South Bend, Ind.
“We’ve lost a couple at the buzzer, we’ve won a couple on the last possession,” Brey said. “They’ve been thrilling games. And I love their atmosphere there. The way their arena’s set up, it’s a great basketball atmosphere.”
The environment Wednesday may not match what Brey has experienced previously, as attendance has dropped this season with the Jackets’ descending fortunes. It should little impact two teams in dire need of a win.
“For me and for my staff, for everyone – all of us – this is new to experience this,” Pastner said. “We’ve just got to keep grinding and working and trying to stay as positive as can be and staying together and keeping the faith and hopefully some of the shots go in for us.”
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