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Freshmen expected to ignite Irish as they host Cougars

| Thursday, November 8, 2018

Notre Dame will play the second of a seven-game homestand to open the season, hosting Chicago State — their second-consecutive opponent from the Windy City — on Thursday.

The Cougars (0-1) are coming off a down season in which they finished eighth in the Western Athletic Conference and lost multiple seniors. In efforts to rebuild, CSU recently hired a new athletic director, former Notre Dame and Chicago Bears defensive back Chris Zorich, and coach, Lance Irvin. Despite the Cougars’ struggles in their 104-55 drubbing against Indiana, senior Anthony Harris led Chicago State with 14 points while sophomore Travon Bell and senior Delshon Strickland each contributed 11 points.

The Irish (1-0) are fresh off a victory Tuesday night against the University of Illinois-Chicago. It was a strong coming-out performance on the part of the Irish freshmen, as guards Dane Goodwin and Robby Carmody each scored in double figures, and forward Nate Laszewski led the team with 12 points and nine rebounds, coming up just short of the double-double. Point guard Prentiss Hubb also held his own defensively and while handling the ball. Head coach Mike Brey praised his newcomers for their immediate success.

“They’ve been very good in practice,” he said. “I felt all four of them looked very comfortable and fit in and found their role with us, and I was as excited about Juwan Durham.”

Durham anchored the Irish defense with six blocks in his first action in two years. The Connecticut transfer, as well as the other new faces on the roster, is shaping up to be an integral part of the Irish for years to come.

“There’s five guys that have never played really major minutes,” Brey said. “All five of those guys, I’m really proud of them. They were really ready to play.”

Despite the excellent play of the freshmen, the veteran players struggled offensively. Junior T.J. Gibbs, after a season in which he averaged 15.3 points per game, went only 2-for-12 from the field and only made one of his eight three-point attempts. Gibbs is known to get hot offensively, as he scored 28 points in last year’s win against Boston College, countering Jerome Robinson, the 13th-overall pick in the NBA draft, who hung 46 on the Irish in Purcell Pavilion.

The entire team struggled to shoot from the three-point line, as they shot a collective 4-of-22 from behind the arc. However, Brey is not worried about their difficulty shooting, as they’ve shown promise driving the ball into the paint.

“I think we can shoot the 3-point shot pretty good, and we have some more guys who can do that,” B

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish junior guard T.J. Gibbs dribbles past defenders during Notre Dame’s 76-54 win in an exhibition game against Central State on Nov. 1 at Purcell Pavilion.

rey said. “But I like how we’re driving it. We were flying around, driving. We may’ve turned it over a bit, but we were attacking, and I think that’s how we have to play.”

Another veteran who struggled to find his offensive rhythm was senior guard Rex Pflueger. The 6-foot-6 California native went 1-for-6 from the field with a team-high four turnovers.

Although Pflueger and the other upperclassmen will need to step up offensively once the intensity of conference play kicks in, Brey said he has the utmost confidence in his upperclassmen, and sees the great benefits players such as Pflueger and senior forward Elijah Burns have in less noticeable areas.

“I think [Pflueger]’s just forced some plays a little bit, tried to do a little too much offensively for us. … We got other guys that can make plays, and he’s starting to trust them,” Brey said. “But he still does unbelievable stuff for us defensively — and rebounding — and he’s been a great leader, he’s been a great captain.”

Pflueger’s defense and leadership will be critical for this young team. Carmody and Hubb showed flashes of defensive skill against UIC with impressive steals and a charge drawn by Carmody, but they are expected to make mistakes as freshmen. Brey said Burns will also be expected to contribute greatly on the interior, as Laszewski and junior forward John Mooney are more perimeter-oriented big men.

“[Elijah]’s a guy [in his] fourth year in our program. I want him to be confident, I think he is confident,” Brey said. “He gives us a physicality, he knows who he is, he doesn’t hunt his shot. He [gets] offensive rebounds, he passes. There’s not a better communicator … our offense and defense are better when he’s in there.”

Overall, Brey’s message to this team is to take advantage of the low expectations entering this season and enjoy themselves.

“We have a lot of serious guys, they really want it,” he said. “The one thing I said before the [UIC] game was, ‘Can we have a little bit of fun with this? Can we smile and enjoy it? Nobody expects anything, what are you protecting?’ I was really pleased that that’s how we started [against UIC].”

As this team evolves, they’ll look to take cues from their coach and remain composed, so they’ll be prepared once the standards inevitably rise for this talented roster. For now, Notre Dame returns to action Thursday at 7 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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