Notre Dame tops Cardinal Stritch in final exhibition
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Notre Dame went through its final tuneup before the regular season Tuesday night, beating Cardinal Stritch 90-46 at Purcell Pavilion.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the convincing win was Notre Dame’s 3-point shooting, which has been suspect so far in the team’s exhibition slate.
Against Holy Cross and Bethel, the Irish tallied a 5-for-37 mark from beyond the arc. Against the Wolves, Notre Dame righted the ship, going 9-of-27, but had a mark as high as 40 percent at one point in the second half.
“We know we can hit shots, that’s not something we’re worried about,” Irish sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs said. “It’s going to come. I think we shot better tonight, and we’re going to keep continuing to get better as our rhythm comes.”
Though Notre Dame has struggled overall from deep, head coach Mike Brey said he’s not worried because his team has managed to get to the free-throw line and score in transition.
“One of the things things that we can do is get some steals, have some numbers-advantage offensive stuff and score more in transition,” Brey said. “That takes a little pressure off your 3-point shooting. And then getting to the line a lot because we drive it, maybe you’re making up for not making a lot of threes consistently from night to night.”
The Irish jumped out to a 9-2 lead at the 15-minute mark in the first half thanks to four points and three rebounds from junior guard Rex Pflueger.
By the time Brey made his first substitutions at 11:52 left in the half, the starters had gone on a 9-0 run, giving the Irish a comfortable lead to start the night.
The Irish defense looked to be in midseason form as well; the Irish racked up three steals, four blocks and two shot-clock violations in the first half alone, as Brey’s squad held the Wolves to 46 points on the night.
“It’s our attention to detail,” Pflueger said. “With our communication, in our practice now, we emphasize playing defense, we emphasize talking, making sure we’re in the right places at the right times. I think it’s really coming over into the games now.”
The Irish finished the night with eight steals and six blocks, and their defensive effort gave them a 41-22 halftime lead. Senior forward and recently-named AP preseason All-American Bonzie Colson led the way for the Irish with 12 points in the half, while Pflueger chipped in 10.
Colson picked up a double-double and went on to score 19 points and grab 14 rebounds.
In possession of a 19-point lead at the break, Notre Dame kept its foot on the gas coming out of the locker room. Senior forward Martinas Geben capitalized on a 3-point play and 3-pointers from senior guard Matt Farrell and Gibbs propelled Notre Dame to a 53-25 advantage by the 15:21 mark in the game’s second period.
With the game in hand, Brey turned to sophomore forward John Mooney, junior forward Elijah Burns and freshman wing D.J. Harvey for the majority of the contest’s final minutes.
Harvey finished the night with 10 points and showcased his athleticism in a drive to the basket where he finished while dodging a defender and moving away from the basket in mid-air.
Brey, however, said the performance of the night went to Pflueger, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“We talked all summer, and he’s going to have to do that for us,” Brey said of Pflueger’s well-rounded game. “I thought tonight, he got some mid-range stuff and some things at the bucket. … The guy does a little bit of everything. He’s involved with every play on the defensive end, and I thought he made great passes tonight as well. He’s like a Steve Vasturia — it’s hard to have him out of the game.”
Pflueger said he takes pride in his role as a jack-of-all trades.
“I’ve never wanted to be just one-sided in my game,” Pflueger said. “Coming out at the defensive end this year allows me to be more aggressive on the offensive end; it allows me to do more than just score; it allows me to be a playmaker; it allows me to attack the offensive glass and create opportunities for my teammates.”
With the win over Cardinal Stritch, Notre Dame capped its exhibition slate at a perfect 3-0 record and will now move into the regular season — starting with a road match against DePaul on Saturday. Gibbs said a key for the Irish to get the season started on the right foot is to match DePaul’s energy.
“We know they’re going to bring a lot of energy,” Gibbs said. “They’re going to give us a tough challenge, and that’s something we’re ready for.”
Notre Dame and DePaul will meet in Chicago at 4 p.m. Saturday.