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Men’s Basketball: Rebounding troubles plague Irish

Joe Monardo | Wednesday, December 4, 2013


In its first ever ACC-Big Ten challenge, Notre Dame could not clinch a victory. Despite a powerful second-half comeback and consistent pressure on the home team, the Irish (5-2) fell to Iowa on Tuesday, 98-93.

The Irish did a lot of things right in the game, notably scoring 20 points off 12 Iowa turnovers while giving the ball away only seven times. But the visiting team found itself entrenched on the wrong end in two key categories, one of which was as surprising as the other was expected. The surprise area of difficulty came in the Hawkeyes’ advantage in bench scoring. As for the other, the oft-cited rebounding issues reared their head.

The Hawkeyes (8-1) outrebounded Notre Dame, gathering 36 boards on their home court to the visitors’ 26. Iowa reined in 12 offensive rebounds to go along with its 24 on the defensive end. Notre Dame had 11 offensive rebounds of its own, but recorded only 15 rebounds on the defensive side.

It was the first time since the season-opening game against Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 8 that Notre Dame ended the game on the wrong side of the rebounding margin. The Irish equaled Indiana State’s 37 rebounds in their 83-70 loss to them on Nov. 17 and have come out atop the category in four contests.

Notre Dame has accumulated a rebounding advantage of 5.1 rebounds-per-game over its opponents, but the margin seems likely to be inflated by a trio of dominating performances in early-season play. Notre Dame outrebounded Stetson by 11, Santa Clara by 17 and Cornell by 16, but Santa Clara (2-4) is the only team of the three to have a positive rebounding margin on the season excluding the numbers against Notre Dame, and only then with an advantage of 0.6-rebounds-per-game. The Irish also outrebounded Army by 5, but the Black Knights (1-5) have a rebounding deficit of 6.4 rebounds-per-game against other opponents.

The two teams that have outrebounded Notre Dame have performed on opposite ends of the spectrum on the boards throughout the season. While Iowa had a positive rebounding margin of 7.5 heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the Irish, the RedHawks (1-4) have struggled to a rebounding deficit of 5.75 against non-Notre Dame foes after besting the Irish in the rebounding column by three in the opener. 

With the departure of former Irish forward Jack Cooley, who took his 10.1 rebounds with him, Notre Dame’s struggles gathering misses have been no secret. Brey has spoken about the need for multiple players to contribute to rebounding efforts in the absence of a single dominant force. Senior forward Garrick Sherman leads the charge with 6.9 rebounds-per-game this year, while junior guard/forward Pat Connaughton is not far behind with an average of 6.1. Sophomore forward Zach Auguste has added an average of 4.1 boards in games this year, while senior guard Eric Atkins and sophomore forward Austin Burgett round out the Irish players with rebounding averages above three, at 3.7 and 3.3, respectively. Freshman guard Demetrius Jackson is averaging 3.0 rebounds-per-game.

While Brey pinpointed his team’s ability to rebound consistently as an area with room for improvement, Notre Dame’s limited production off the bench came a bit more unexpectedly. In a lineup that can go 10 players deep, Notre Dame managed only seven points off the bench, an output that looks especially meager in comparison to Iowa’s 39.

“Their depth wore on us, there’s no question, not only in transition but on the backboard,” Brey said. “We kind of shortened our bench a little bit and it helped us with our offensive efficiency but fatigue maybe caught up to us a little bit at times. Iowa just has a style of play that’s hard to deal with. They are good offensively and have a lot of bodies.”

Brey turned to his bench more sparingly than he had in previous games this season and reaped fewer benefits when he did. In 15 minutes, Burgett recorded three points, had two assists, one steal and one rebound. Auguste played 13 minutes, scoring three points and gathering one rebound. No other players came off the bench against Iowa.

Although some significant portion of the time doled out to players off the bench through the early stretch of the season came with the Irish holding comfortable leads, 11 players entered the action in the loss to Indiana State, nine of whom played significant and meaningful minutes.

Notre Dame will return to action Saturday with a game against Delaware in the Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu