Notre Dame dominates Caldwell
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, November 6, 2015
In addition to No. 19 Notre Dame finishing its exhibition slate after beating Caldwell 81-56, Irish head coach Mike Brey said Thursday night was the final time he’ll play 12 players in a game.
Against the Cougars, the Irish had 10 lineup combinations, which consisted of all 12 players on the roster, in just the first half. Despite the constant rotations, Notre Dame shot 50 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“I’m playing too many guys,” Brey said sarcastically after the game. “But no, we’re still evaluating. … I do think we need work on half-court offense with our key guys. I gotta look at the tape and see what are we doing and where are we moving? So we’ve got some work to do at that end.”
Notre Dame struggled to find the net early, converting just one of four field goal attempts in the first few minutes of the game. However, a corner 3-pointer from junior forward V.J. Beachem sparked the Irish, who went on a 21-4 run to go ahead 23-12. The Cougars went on a run of their own to close the gap to five points, but Notre Dame’s defense crushed any hopes of a comeback by limiting them to just six more points in the first half.
The Irish picked up right where they left off in the second half offensively, putting up 44 points in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Beachem led the team with 13 points, while junior forward Steve Vasturia’s 11-point first half also put him in double digits. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson contributed 11 points to go along with five assists while senior forward Zach Auguste scored nine points and hauled in a game-high eight rebounds.
Beachem believes that the exhibition games give everyone the experience necessary to be ready to play whenever his number is called later on in the season.
“Sometimes we’re playing out there with lineups that don’t really practice together that much,” Beachem said. “But that’s one thing we have to figure out because we never know who’s going to be in the game together in a real game.”
The Irish, while slow to defend at the start of the contest, held Caldwell to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field. Senior guard Dawan Lighty scored a game-high 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting for the Cougars, but the team committed 10 turnovers, which the Irish scored 11 points off of. The Cougars also struggled with Notre Dame’s length, as the Irish blocked 14 of their opponents’ shots.
Of the 81 points scored by Notre Dame, just 28 were scored by the bench. Sophomore guard Matt Farrell led the backups with nine points and five assists. Last season, Farrell played limited minutes, but Brey is adamant Farrell is going to be in the picture this year for the Irish.
“I’m really pleased with Matt Farrell,” Brey said. “Having another ball handler out there and shot maker, it really helps us. … When Matt goes in, you can open that floor up. He handles the ball, so he takes some pressure off Demetrius, and he makes shots too. He’s really a key for us.”
Each trying to work his way into the regular-season rotation, freshmen forwards Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan played 10 and 15 minutes respectively against the Cougars on Thursday — Plfueger only tallied two points while Ryan showcased his range knocking down two 3-point shots along with a couple of free throws to finish with eight points on the night.
Brey knows that he has some tough decisions to make before next Friday’s season opener against St. Francis (Pennsylvania) on who is going to play consistently given the depth of the roster.
“I didn’t give [sophomore forward Martinas] Geben a lot of minutes tonight, but he’s been pretty darn good,” Brey said. “[Junior forward Austin] Torres is going to be Torres, bouncing around flying around. Is it Pflueger or is it Ryan? We’ll see. Or is it neither? Where does that put [freshman forward Elijah] Burns if we play small? [Senior forward Austin] Burgett is a veteran. Does he come in? Those are the really important discussions to have leading up to Friday.”
Regardless of who gets a spot in the rotation, Ryan understands that every minute given is another opportunity to help the team achieve its goals and prove that he belongs.
“Whatever role I have, I’m going to make the most of it,” Ryan said. “It’s not like watching at home anymore where I’m saying, ‘I hope they make the Elite Eight again.’ Now we have to do it. We have to put in the work to do it. Nothing’s going to be given to us just because we did it last year. Coach is still trying to figure out when to sub, who to put in, so it’s going to be a growing process.”
With the exhibition schedule complete, Notre Dame will compete against higher-quality, Division I opponents, and Brey believes that now is the time to figure out which players will be a part of a consistent rotation.
“You want to give everybody a shot in these two exhibitions,” Brey said. “Just to kind of see how they compete and see how they are with the lights on. Especially with the younger guys in the program and see who they are. But eventually interhall basketball is over, where everyone gets to play. Now we’ve got to shave it down, and that’s what we’ll start to do tomorrow.”
The Irish will have a week to figure out their personnel before hosting the Red Flash to open their regular-season campaign next Friday at Purcell Pavilion.