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Sports

Irish prepare for mid-major opponent in Toledo

| Thursday, November 21, 2019

Notre Dame will tip off against the Toledo Rockets on Thursday. Like the Irish (4-1), the Rockets (3-1) lost a tough season opener on the road before bouncing back. Toledo has won three straight, and Notre Dame has put up four victories. However, that’s where almost any similarities between these squads end. 

Notre Dame features an ability to bear down and get defensive stops, winning a bevy of low-scoring battles. They’ve held their opponents to just 60 points a game and haven’t allowed more than 64 outside of their opening loss to North Carolina, a 76-65 defeat.

Toledo gives up 68 a game — an average dragged down by Robert Morris’ putrid 56-point outing against the Rockets. However, any defensive deficiencies have been largely covered up by their sizzling shooting. After putting up 112 points in their most recent performance, the Rockets are heading to South Bend averaging a touch under 89 points per game.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer

Irish senior guard TJ Gibbs drives and goes up strong with his right hand in a victory against Presbyterian on November 18.

Thursday’s duel looks to embody the classic “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” saying, as Notre Dame will try to get their shooting going against the Rockets while locking down the lethal Toledo offense. Helping the Irish’s cause will be the likely return of senior forward John Mooney, who missed Monday’s matchup against Presbyterian due to an illness. Mooney currently leads the team in points per game, rebounds and steals. Even when Mooney isn’t the leading scorer, the Irish offense largely runs through him. They’ll look to Mooney to lead the attack and hope their supporting cast can provide sufficient offense behind him. The Irish lack a pure star scorer in their lineup, and so they look to utilize strong defense and a multitude of offensive contributions up and down the lineup. With senior guard TJ Gibbs averaging 12 points a game and sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb chipping in 11 per game, Notre Dame has done a good job spreading the scoring around. However, it’s a precarious offensive structure, and one off night from one Irish starter could ultimately spell their doom against a scrappy mid-major like Toledo.

 Defensively, Mooney’s 6-10 frame offers the Irish another big option to defend Toledo and their sharpshooters. After seeing Toledo sink fourteen 3-pointers in a game versus Marshall earlier this year, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey will want to minimized the Rockets’ mid-range and three point game. By keeping lanky senior forward Juwan Durham and Mooney on the court and out of foul trouble, the Irish can add some necessary height to hopefully invade the space of Toledo’s long-range weapons. If Toledo gets a multitude of open looks, they could easily escape South Bend with a victory.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb plays defense against an opposing guard in a November 18 win against Presbyterian.

Another key to Notre Dame’s defense will be graduate student Rex Pflueger. After initially saying that he would be unlikely to play more than 20 minutes a game for a while, Brey left Pflueger on the court for 36 minutes in the Presbyterian matchup. A perimeter stopper for the Irish, Pflueger’s veteran’s presence clearly helped the Irish hold off a charging Presbyterian squad. His defensive tandem with Gibbs is a difficult matchup for any offense, and he can also offer some decent secondary scoring for the Irish. 

Ultimately, the Irish should be able to beat Toledo if they stick to their brand of hard-nosed, defensive basketball; however the Rockets are an excellent program, and a bad shooting night or porous defensive effort from Notre Dame could very well vault Toledo to the road victory. Tip-off is Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at Purcell Pavillon. 

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