Fresh faces see court as ND easily defeats Mercy
R.J. Stempak | Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Notre Dame started the new season on Tuesday night and began the search for the players who will fill the holes left by departed stars Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. The Irish defeated Mercy 119-58 with dominant control of the boards and strong three-point shooting.
Plenty of new players got minutes on opening night, most notably freshman guard T.J. Gibbs and sophomore forward Elijah Burns. Junior guard Matt Farrell said the young players will be able to make an impact this year if they are able to gain confidence.
“I talked to T.J. [Gibbs] before the game, and said, ‘Don’t be nervous, just play your own game and just think of it like back in high school,’” Farrell said. “That’s something that has been really important to this program, to have younger guys able to come in and make an impact. The younger guys came in and they really played well.”
Irish head coach Mike Brey was impressed with the newcomers’ maturity over the summer and was happy to see it translate to the court, he said.
“[The young guys] were really good,” Brey said. “They were really steady. This is a mature group to deal with. The three new guys are three of the most mature freshmen we have ever had. What’s great about our program, the rhythm to the roster, you are joining nine to 10 veteran guys who tell you how we do it all summer. They have been mature beyond their years.”
To start the game, the Irish took control of the boards, utilizing their height advantage and securing 10 second-chance points in the first five minutes. Notre Dame could not pull away immediately, as Mercy’s 3-point shooting kept them in the game early on. The Mavericks stayed within two of the Irish until 15:16 left in the half.
Gibbs was the first new face to enter the court for the Irish. He scored his first points of his Irish career on a three from the top of the key and immediately followed it with a fast-break layup the next possession.
“It was great to be out there,” Gibbs said. “The nerves quickly went away. [Making that three-pointer] definitely calmed a little bit of the nerves.”
Gibbs said he aims to continue his strong play by bringing effort and intensity when entering the court.
“I hope to bring energy, just moving the ball and getting everyone involved,” Gibbs said. “We got everyone playing well, so I just try to get everyone else involved and do my part. Do what I can do and don’t do what I can’t.”
The Irish lead started to grow with a 13-2 run in the middle of the first half, but it was halted by seven quick Maverick points coming off of three straight Irish turnovers. Burns, who was redshirted last year, made a splash with his first points on a put-back dunk as soon as he entered the game.
Through the rest of the half, the talent gap between the teams became evident with Notre Dame going on a 22-4 run after Mercy’s quick outburst of scoring. The half ended with Notre Dame leading Mercy, 55-28.
The Irish continued to control the game into the second half, scoring nine points before the Mavericks could add to their total. Halfway through the second half, the scoreboard showed 84-39 in favor of the Irish. The game did not get any closer for the remainder of the night, and the final score ended up 119-58.
Though opponents ahead promise to be more competitive than Mercy, the three-point shooting and confidence of Notre Dame’s young players shined. The three returning starters continued their strong play from last year without skipping a beat, contributing 41 points. Seven Irish players hit a three, shooting 13-for-27 on the night.
Gibbs finished shooting 4-for-4 with 16 points and seven assists to go alongside zero turnovers, and Burns ended the game eight points and two rebounds.
Brey was especially pleased with the team’s passing, finishing with 26 assists on the night.
“I love our unselfishness,” Brey said. “Our culture is our culture: moving the ball and making the extra pass. It was neat to see guys come off the bench and have success, a good first time putting the uniform on and something to build on.”
The Irish will continue to get in form for the regular season in a second exhibition game on Monday against Catholic at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.