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Men’s Basketball: Irish beat Georgia Southern, Liberty in impressive fashion

Eric Prister | Monday, November 15, 2010

After two decisive victories over the weekend over Georgia Southern and Liberty, many were quick to praise the Irish squad. But it was the opposing coaches who were the most complimentary.

“It’s obvious that the Fighting Irish are extremely experienced and have poise and savvy and unselfishness,” Liberty coach Dale Layer said after the game. “When you have that combination, they don’t beat themselves, they look for the proper shot most of the time. They outsized us at every position, and when you outsize and out-experience at every position, good things typically happen for you. I like their team, I like its spirit, I like its unselfishness, I like its ability to create for others. They’ve got a chance to be an extremely good team in the Big East.”

Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young went even further.

“They came out and did what an old, savvy, veteran team is supposed to do to a bunch of young whipper-snappers,” Young said. “They’re good. They’re huge, they shoot the ball, and they’re well-coached. Their size is going to be a match-up problem not only for a Southern Conference team but for a Big East team. I’ll be shocked if they’re not in the NCAA tournament.”

Notre Dame picked up its first win of the season Friday against Georgia Southern, defeating the inexperienced Eagles 98-61. The Irish started out fast, going on a 30-3 run to start the game.

“With this team, we talk about no matter who we play we’re going to come out,” Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough said. “We talked about how extremely focused we want to be on the defensive end. Obviously we have some extremely offensively talented people, and we just want to continue to improve on the defensive end and with rebounding. We came out really focused and we just wanted to throw the first punch — the first punch was a K.O.”

Ten of Notre Dame’s 12 active players recorded double-digit playing time, and all twelve recorded a rebound against Georgia Southern. Hansbrough was the top scorer with 20 points and scored his 1,000th career point in the process.

“I think Ben has set a great tone, letting the game come to him,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “That’s a big step forward for him. That’s why he’s become a better shooter. I think he’s truly playing like a fifth-year senior guard, and his tempo’s better.”

Hansbrough was 9-15 from beyond the arch over the weekend and led the team in both points and minutes in both games.

Notre Dame had to change gears against Liberty Sunday, beating the Flames 72-51 in a slow-paced game. Senior Tyrone Nash had 16 points and nine rebounds, shooting 12-15 from the free throw line and causing foul trouble for much of Liberty’s front court.

“When their team fouls up early, we try to use that as a weapon, and it really paid off today,” Nash said. “I worked on it all summer. When I was home, I just wanted to lay around and watch T.V. and rest, and my dad would say, ‘Go to the gym and shoot some free throws, Ty.’ I knew to help out my teammates this year, I would have to be able to knock them down from the free throw line, because they’re going to put me there and I’m just trying to convert.”

Liberty started out the game on top, scoring the first four points, and kept itself in contention until the last five minutes of the first half, when Notre Dame went on a 16-3 scoring run, taking a 19-point lead at half. The Flames never came within 15 points after that point.

“We played two games, and you couldn’t have two more drastic styles of play and drastic styles of game, which I hope will be good for us,” Brey said. “I like the fact that I had to play some key guys more minutes, more like it’s going to be. I thought our three guys of the bench in the second half really gave us a good lift, and we have to keep developing that. They really helped us in the second half, giving us a lift.”

Brey said freshman guard Eric Atkins also impressed him over the weekend. Atkins scored 19 points and recorded seven assists over the weekend, but Brey praised his demeanor on the court.

“For a young guy, [Atkins’] focus is excellent,” Brey said. “He is really sharp, picked out system up. He continues to come in and run our team. I have never seen him trying to get his stuff. Even when he’s playing and running the blue team, and there’re less weapons that he’s playing with, he stays in character. Not a lot of guys any year can do that.”

But Atkins’ said the unselfishness comes easily.

“It’s actually very easy to not search for my shot,” Atkins said. “With all the great shooters we have and all the great finishers, when I get into the lane I always try to look for them. I will grow into [hunting my shot], but for right now I’m just more of a facilitator and that’s OK with me. I pride myself on it. I want to have a lot of assists every game.”

Atkins, Hansbrough and the Irish will be back in action Wednesday when they take on Chicago State at 7:30 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.