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Men’s Basketball

Irish win second straight game in rout of Howard

| Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Notre Dame remained undefeated in the Men Against Breast Cancer Invitational and improved to 13-1 in in-season tournament games dating back to the 2016-2017 season with a convincing 79-50 win over Howard on Tuesday night. It was the first match up between the two programs, though connections between the two coaching staffs run deep. First year Bison head coach Kenny Blakeney was recruited under Mike Brey while the current Irish head coach was an assistant at Duke and won national championships with the Blue Devils in 1991 and 1992. The winless Bison (0-3), however, did not seem to profit off any insider information as the Irish (2-1) dominated throughout en route to a true team win.

“I think our group … they like playing together. … You have 22 assists, you’re moving the ball a little bit,” Brey said. “[Howard is a] team you should be able to handle, and I’m glad we did that. So hopefully we can do that the rest of the month.” 

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior forward John Mooney backs down a defender during a 64-62 defeat against Clemson at Purcell Pavilion on March 6. Mooney was selected as a member of the All-ACC Third Team last season.

Mike Brey was especially pleased with how his unselfish squad played in transition and exhibited their depth. 

“[Passing has] been such a hallmark of our program, you know, sharing the ball,” he said. “I just love how we’re throwing the ball ahead. We are firing the ball down the court. We’ve thrown a couple away deep and that’s OK. … We’re driving it more and we [get get called for a few charges]. But that’s OK. … That group is coming off the bench [and giving] us a nice lift, and they can score a little bit too. I think they’re getting comfortable coming in together, especially [sophomore guard Robby] Carmody, [sophomore forward Nate] Laszewski and [sophomore guard Dane] Goodwin, you know those three guys are going to be really important for us. 

Senior forward John Mooney, who led the Irish with a monstrous 18-point, 16-rebound performance, also credited the team’s balance offensively. 

“When you have multiple guys in double figures, multiple guys playing well, it’s certainly hard for teams to scout,” he said. “When we get into league play and when … December and January come around … if multiple guys play at a high level, one-on-one given we’re going to be hard to stop.”

The Irish also got off to a terrific start on the defensive end, forcing a shot clock violation on the Bison’s first possession. Senior forward Juwan Durham opened the scoring about two minutes in with a back door cut and open dunk after graduate student Rex Pflueger passed up an open three, but after another shot clock violation by Howard. Pflueger made the Bison pay for leaving him free a second time and hit a deep three. Howard was punished by the Irish for another turnover when Durham went coast-to-coast and converted a beautiful Euro step in transition to complete a 7-0 run by Notre Dame heading into the under-16 timeout. 

When Durham was prompted whether he would now demand to bring the ball up more often after his highlight-reel play, the Tampa, Florida, native who finished with 11 points on just six shots said, “Most definitely. I think I could definitely be a point-forward. I’m just trying to go out there and be a KD.” 

Brey also commented on the matter.

“The footwork on a … Euro step for a seven foot guy? Just doing that with nobody around is pretty good. So, you know, he’s an agile guy,” Brey said. “He’s a smart basketball player. And again, I think he’s just starting to become a believer that he’s a good player.”

Durham and Mooney would dominate inside all game long, as the Irish outscored Howard 46-14 in the paint and out-rebounded the Bison 45-32. Brey credited the performance of his starting front court to the close relationship the two senior forwards share on and off the floor. 

“Yeah, they love playing together,” he said. “They really do. It’s kind of neat. You know, the two Florida guys … they live in a room together. So I think they really have a nice chemistry together and I think … we’re learning how to be more efficient offensively with them on the floor.” 

The Bison would come out of the first timeout with a 5-0 run of their own, but Laszewski, a sophomore out of Jupiter, Florida, restored momentum for the Irish with a layup and the foul in transition. The Bison continued to be forced to hoist up shots late in the shot clock and also struggled with turnovers, and an 8-0 run powered by sophomores Dane Goodwin, who tied Durham for second on the team with scoring with eleven off the bench, and Robby Carmody, who finished two acrobatic reverse lay-ins while drawing the foul, got the Purcell crowd going and extended the Irish lead to 23-9.

Brey commented on Goodwin’s performance after the game.

“He’s played a little bit more pissed off, quite frankly,” he said. “He was disappointed with how he played in Chapel Hill [in the first game of the season against North Carolina] and …  he’s being aggressive, he’s going for it. … As much as I told him that last year, it just was hard to do and understand at times, but it he gets it now.”

In contrast, Brey said Carmody has maintained a consistently strong game.

“Carmody came out of the womb driving to the basket and knocking the hell out of people,” Brey said. “He is a bull in a China shop. Is that a Pittsburgh guy or what?”

Bison guard Andre Toure would respond with one of Howard’s eight triples on the night, but Pflueger and Goodwin both hit deep threes of their own later in the first half. Though Notre Dame shot only 25% from three during the first half, the Irish held Howard to a measly 30% from the floor. The half was perhaps best summed up with the last points of the half, when Mooney rebounded his own block and quickly made an outlet pass to senior guard T.J. Gibbs, who found the sophomore Laszewski for a transition three to establish a commanding 41-21 lead at the break

Blakeney gave credit to the Irish for his team’s offensive struggles. 

“I think Coach Brey did an amazing job having those guys ready to go out and ready to compete, and they did a great job defensively,” he said. “I think their size … and strength bothered us a little bit. They were able to get into us, and we didn’t do a good job of working to get open and executing our stuff. So I attribute a lot of that to [Brey’s] program.”

The Bison were able to create a little more after halftime, but then Mooney really started to take over, especially in transition. After Toure finished well at the rim but failed to quickly back into his position in the Bison press, Mooney received an outlet pass and raced down the floor and dunked on the pursuing Toure. Mooney scored another bucket on the break and Howard was forced to call a timeout, even with the under-16 timeout looming, as the Irish led 53-29.

Brey was unsurprisingly full of praise for one of his three captains and admitted his is often awestruck not just Mooney’s ability to score, more his skill on the glass as well. 

“It’s an art form watching him rebound the ball,” he said. “I don’t care who were playing, he just goes and gets 13 to 16 rebounds, and how he goes and gets it is really beautiful to watch. I mean, he is a great rebounder.”

Mooney was not any less ruthless out of the timeout, adding a three and a strong one-handed finish to put the Irish up 58-31. The Irish continued to drive to the cup with ease for the rest of the contest, although the Bison were able to draw multiple offensive fouls, something Blakeney says he will emphasize as he tries to “establish a culture of playing hard” in his first year at the helm. 

“I thought we didn’t compete as hard at some spots during the game,” he said. “A lot of that is attributed to Notre Dame and how well they played and how well they defended. As the game went on, I think we got a little bit more comfortable, the butterflies and the jitters kinda went away, and we had some great rotation [on defense]. Zion Cousins took three charges … I’m really proud of the way some guys competed and played down the stretch, even though … the outcome was already determined.” 

On a relatively quiet but effective night for the Notre Dame backcourt, sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb, Gibbs and Pflueger scored nine, three and 10 points respectively. Goodwin and Laszewski continued to get to the rim, and Brey called a timeout with the Irish up 75-45 late on to empty his bench. The high defensive standard did not drop, though Howard’s Wayne Bristol added a late three to earn the last of his team-leading 14 points. Sophomore forward Chris Doherty caused a roar from the Irish bench with his first points of the season. Somewhat fittingly, the Bison’s last offensive possession ended with a huge block from Goodwin, and the Irish dribbled out the clock as 29 point victors. 

The Irish will continue their six-game home stand and play their third game in the MABA Invitational on Friday against Marshall. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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