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Men’s Basketball: Ready to go

Bill Brink | Friday, November 13, 2009

Much like a student relishes free time to get work done, Irish coach Mike Brey said he was using the final three days before Notre Dame’s regular-season opener against North Florida Saturday to work on “us.

“Tempo offensively, understanding when we’re in the half court to slow down a little bit,” Brey said when asked what about “us” he wanted to work on.

Notre Dame’s ball movement has pleased Brey so far.

“After two passes we get a pretty good shot, after five, can we get a great one?” he said.

The Irish have won their first two exhibition games at the Purcell Pavilion in the Joyce Center. Brey had to replace three starters — Kyle McAlarney, Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers — and the combinations of players are coming together. Senior guard Ben Hansbrough, a transfer from Mississippi State who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, has started opposite Jackson in the backcourt. Hansbrough had 14 points and six assists in Notre Dame’s 75-54 win over Quincy Friday.

“I think I’m learning more about our identity but I don’t have it down yet,” Brey said. “You’re still trying to figure out who you are offensively and who you are completely defensively.”

Junior forward Tyrone Nash also started against Quincy and had 11 points and four rebounds. Notre Dame made 73 percent of its free throws and 11-of-12 in the first half.

“I like the fact that the foul line has become a good weapon for us,” Brey said.
The 3-point line, however, has not materialized as a viable weapon thus far. Notre Dame took 33 3-point shots against Quincy but made only eight. Hansbrough said after Friday’s game that the team had open looks and was taking good shots, but they just weren’t falling yet.

“I think it’s a fine line whereas how we use the line this year,” Brey said. “We’re going to have to use it, we’re going to have to shoot it from out there. They’re going to jam defenses in on Luke [Harangody].”

Referring to Harangody’s role in Saturday’s game, Brey said North Florida’s defense would dictate his involvement.

“This team actually doubles the low post, block to block,” Brey said. “We refer to it as clamping the post.”

North Florida finished last season 8-22 and was 2-14 on the road. Senior guard and leading scorer Eni Kuka, who averaged 13.2 points per game last season, returns, but the Ospreys lost Cortez Riley’s 10 points and 3.8 assists per game.

Brey and first-year coach Matthew Driscoll traded exhibition game tapes to have something to gameplan with.

“They have bodies and they have athletic ability,” Brey said. “A little bit like our last exhibition, a team that likes to put it on the floor after a couple of passes and take you off the dribble.”

The game starts at 2 p.m.

Freshman forward Tom Knight twisted his ankle in practice Monday and is questionable for Saturday’s game, Brey said.