Irish focus on positives but look to improve heading into second exhibition
Alex Carson | Monday, November 7, 2016
After a 61-point win in its exhibition opener Tuesday, Notre Dame returns to the hardwood for its second preseason contest Monday night, hosting Catholic at Purcell Pavilion.
Despite that lopsided win, Irish head coach Mike Brey said the Irish knew there were things to work on the past week in practice, pointing to the high volume of turnovers from senior guard Steve Vasturia and senior forward V.J. Beachem.
“I think they understood the competition we were playing against and know there’s things we can do better,” Brey said. “I know Steve and V.J. were upset with how they turned the ball over.”
That said, though, Brey didn’t want to focus on the negative side of the Irish performance against Mercy.
“I did want to reinforce a lot of the positives,” Brey said. “Sharing the ball, guys making an impact off the bench, guys coming in and being energy guys.”
A key storyline entering last week’s exhibition was how junior Martinas Geben would look in his first game starting as the Notre Dame big man. Despite committing a turnover in the first minute and picking up three early fouls, Geben bounced back for a 12-point, nine-rebound night — something Brey attributes in part to the confidence the Lithuanian’s teammates have in him.
“He’s really growing — he really is,” Brey said. “What helps him is the support of the older guys — they have made him really believe how important he is. And I think when he makes a mistake, those guys pick him up and it’s more powerful than me picking him up.”
Geben, who now knows he’s the “main guy” for Notre Dame in the middle, said things have been easier now that he’s in the starting rotation.
“It’s much easier knowing that, and I think Coach Brey’s learning how to trust me more on the court and knows that I can perform,” Geben said.
Sophomore forward Matt Ryan, a 3-point threat for the Irish throughout his freshman campaign, returned to practice Wednesday, Brey said. Ryan had been sidelined with a stress reaction during preseason camp, and the goal is to get him in the game Monday against Catholic.
“His conditioning, obviously, is not there, but I want to get him in the game,” Brey said. “We need to get him in the uniform and in the game on Monday.”
Monday’s contest will mark the second time in six years the Division III Cardinals have traveled from Washington to South Bend for an exhibition contest, the other a 72-47 Irish win on Nov. 6, 2010.
Last week, Notre Dame named its 2016-17 captains, and a trio of familiar faces will serve as leaders for the Irish this season. Vasturia, who became a captain midseason last year, will be joined by Beachem and junior forward Bonzie Colson as the three-man group.
That Beachem, Colson and Vasturia got the support of their teammates wasn’t a surprise to Brey.
“We have the most predictable captains year-to-year than any program in history,” Brey said. “You can really kind of call it — I can call it by the spring of the year before.”
Vasturia, who has started 86 consecutive games for Notre Dame, praised his fellow captains’ leadership skills.
“They’ve been great. I think both of them have been leaders for the team, even for the past two years — they’ve really learned a lot and grown up,” he said.
And while senior forward Austin Torres isn’t a captain to start the year, Brey pointed to the Granger native’s leadership as important to Notre Dame’s success.
“His leadership is very much a key and we’ve had in the past guys become captains before the ACC season started, like Steve Vasturia last year,” Brey said.
Notre Dame closes out its exhibition slate Monday night at Purcell Pavilion, hosting Catholic at 7 p.m.