Players wake in strange beds in strange hotels in strange cities. They eat different food for their pre-game meals, follow a different itinerary, stray from routine and have little time to adjust to an arena's environment and nuances, which often are far more foreign than the one they're familiar with at home.
Slow starts are common as teams struggle to secure firm footing. For the last five games away from Indiana, Notre Dame has really liked the road, and really early.
After allowing Providence to score Wednesday's first four points, including a layup off the opening tip, the Irish quickly settled into a comfort zone and ran off nine consecutive points. A five-point Irish lead forced the Friars to call timeout less than three minutes in. By the time the first media break arrived at the under-16 minute mark (15:11) the Irish already were up six.
“We really just try to jump on teams early,” said freshman guard Eric Atkins. “First four minutes of the game, we try to make the other team call the first timeout. That's our key.”
That's been par for the course, beginning with last month's road win at then-No. 2 Pittsburgh. By the time the first media timeout arrives, the Irish have led in all five road games. Notre Dame (22-5; 11-4 Big East) was up by three at Pittsburgh, by five at DePaul, by six at South Florida and by two in Saturday's loss at West Virginia.
The Irish have won four of those five road games following Wednesday's 94-93 squeaker in Providence.
Why the hot starts? Easy. Hot hands.
“Making shots,” said coach Mike Brey. “I don't mean to over-simplify it, but let's call it what it is. When we can make some shots early, you feel good about yourself, you don't necessarily let a home crowd or a home team get in too good a rhythm.
“It kind of sets the tone for you.”
Notre Dame connected on 13 of its first 18 shots (72.2 percent) Wednesday and scored 48 first-half points, its best first half offensively in a league game this year. Where the Irish once seemed intimidated at the thought of road wins, now they're greedy. Even after the loss at West Virginia, the nation's ninth-ranked team couldn't wait for another chance to get away.
It didn't take long to see why.
“We played (early) like we did against South Florida,” said Irish guard Ben Hansbrough. “At the end of the night, the poised, veteran team won.”
Notre Dame is 4-4 on the road in league play this season. A win March 5 at Connecticut would give the Irish their best league road record since 2007-08, when they also finished 5-4. It also would mark the sixth time in Brey's 11 seasons that Notre Dame is .500 or better away from home in the Big East.
Senior captain Carleton Scott may be showing signs of the grind of a long season.
In his first full year as a starter, Scott missed four games last month with a slight tear to his left hamstring. He left Wednesday's game late in the second half with a sprained right ankle. Scott spent the game's final minute on the bench with his right foot wrapped in ice and a look of anguish over his face.
“He actually got off the plane better than I thought; he didn't need crutches,” said Brey, whose team returned home Thursday morning around 1. “I think we'll really take a look at him Friday and see where he's at.
“I was more encouraged seeing how he was walking without any crutches from the plane to the bus.”
Scott's status for Saturday's game against Seton Hall is uncertain. He also has been wearing a protective sleeve/pad on his lower right leg after being kicked during the DePaul game. At halftime of the South Florida game, Scott added a sleeve to his left elbow, which has been bothered recently by fluid build-up.
Scott had 10 rebounds Wednesday and has had at least 10 rebounds in three consecutive games and four of the last five.
Having a ball
Playing with a Nike basketball once shook Irish senior captain Tim Abromaitis far from his comfort zone. He didn't like it, couldn't get a good feel and always seemed to struggle when required to use it.
Using the Nike ball that Providence provides, Abromaitis made 11 of 16 shots for a season-high 28 points.
“I think we've played with it nine or 10 times this year,” Abromaitis said of the ball brand. “At this point, if you're not used to it, you're not a good basketball player.
“Nothing different about that now.”
Abromaitis hit his first five shots and scored 15 of Notre Dame's first 18 points in the first 6:18 of Wednesday's game.
“I was able to get open, I guess, made a couple cuts to the bucket,” Abromaitis said. “Ty (Nash) and Ben and a couple of the guys were finding me. I was able to take advantage of some open cutting lanes and started out hot.”
Staff writer Tom Noie: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6153