Notre Dame sets program records in win over North Carolina A&T
Alex Carson | Monday, December 5, 2016
On most nights, when Irish freshman guard T.J. Gibbs hits a 3-pointer in the final two minutes to give his team a 51-point lead, the bucket would be a bit of an afterthought.
But Sunday night, it helped Notre Dame set a program record, as for the first time ever seven Irish players hit double figures in the same game — this one a 107-53 win over North Carolina A&T, Notre Dame’s largest-ever victory at Purcell Pavilion.
“You’ve got skilled shooters with skilled passers — it’s just fun to watch,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said following the win. “I thought they handled their business. I guess seven guys in double figures is a record, but you think about how we pass it and a number of different guys who can make a shot, and we may do it a couple times this year.”
Senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem paced the Irish (8-0) with 19 points, with the lion’s share of his points coming after the break; Beachem shot 6-for-7 to put up 16 points in the second half after going just 1-for-7 in the opening stanza.
“I thought he tried to force a few things against their zone [in the first half] and didn’t get stuff,” Brey said. “At least he stayed in it, and it all comes back around to guys. … I was proud of how he kind of composed himself and then in the second half got off to a good start for us.”
A late flurry from behind the arc helped sophomore forward Matt Ryan get to 17, while Gibbs (12 points) and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger (10) also hit double figures off the Irish bench. But, along with senior forward Austin Torres, Brey praised the bench’s defensive effort Sunday before complimenting the offensive side.
“Some of the individual defensive plays Rex made tonight, I don’t know if other people in the country can do that,” Brey said. “He just stays in front of guys, then he blocks your shot; he’s just a pain to deal with. And T.J.’s toughness, Torres flying around — and Ryan’s a different kind of weapon. If he’s got a look — that was the quietest 17.”
Reflective of the balanced scoring effort, the Irish shared the ball exceptionally well Sunday, recording 29 assists on 37 made field goals while only committing eight turnovers. Irish junior guard Matt Farrell, who finished with 15 points, said it’s a byproduct of the guys in the locker room.
“It’s a lot of fun to play that way; it sure is fun to watch,” Farrell said. “We’ve got guys in here that want to play for each other and it’s special to have. … We’re really unselfish and it’s a really fun way to play. We’ve got a good vibe about ourselves right now.”
After Sunday’s win, Notre Dame moved to the top of the NCAA leaderboards in two categories: assist-to-turnover ratio (2.25) and free-throw percentage (85.8 percent).
“Watching us this summer, when we would do some free-throw stuff, I thought we could be really good,” Brey said. “We’re better than we thought. And now, there’s amazing confidence right there. If we miss, I bet the crowd’ll just walk out of the building.”
Notre Dame struggled a bit early — the Irish were locked in a 9-9 game with five minutes played — but soon flashed its firepower at both ends of the court, embarking on a 19-4 run to blow the game open. That run allowed head coach Mike Brey to get 11 players, 10 of which scored, into the first-half rotation.
“That’s what I love about this group: We’re playing a lot of guys; guys are catching and touching the ball in different places, and you’re still really, really good with the ball,” Brey said.
The Irish lead grew to 21 on three occasions in the first half — the latest one being with 1:31 left — but a 5-0 run by the Aggies (1-7) put the halftime margin at 45-29.
If there were any concerns about the way the Irish finished the first half, though, they alleviated them early in the second half, starting the stanza on a 13-4 run to stretch the lead to 58-33 at the under-16 media timeout. The lead kept climbing as the half continued, with the final margin (54) being Notre Dame’s biggest advantage.
After fouling out in just 11 minutes of action Tuesday night, Irish junior forward Martinas Geben made another early exit from the game Sunday, leaving with five fouls midway through the second half after 14 minutes played.
“He’s frustrated, and I need to get to him. I talked to him a little bit on the bench, and he’s got to give himself up a little bit. He’s our physical guy,” Brey said. “I don’t want him to back off. Some of them, maybe one or two of them, he didn’t have to chop a guy. But we need him to be physical, and I think we’re gonna have to ride with that because he gives us a presence down there.”
A pair of captains — senior guard Steve Vasturia and junior forward Bonzie Colson — rounded out the Irish contingent in double figures. In addition to his 10 points, Colson grabbed in 11 rebounds for his fifth consecutive double-double.
Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday night, when it hosts Fort Wayne, who defeated then-No. 3 Indiana last month. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.