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Men’s Basketball

“Alright, alright”: Irish find shooting touch in sixth-straight home win

| Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team remained perfect at home this season with a 91-66 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday. Head coach Mike Brey began his post-game press conference in high spirits following a strong shooting performance for the Irish (6-1, 0-1 ACC).

“Alright, alright. We threw a couple in, threw a couple shots in tonight,” Brey said. “It’s good to see us throw it in there and make some good ones and share the ball. And certainly, [sophomore guard Dane] Goodwin and [sophomore forward Nate] Laszewski coming off the bench and being aggressive are going be important for us moving forward, so hopefully they’re more confident to do it regularly.”

The Irish opened the game with two 3-pointers from senior guard T.J. Gibbs and recorded 12 of their first 18 points from long-range en route to shooting 12-25 on the night from behind the arc. Brey was equally ecstatic about the 38 points his bench contributed, coming predominantly from Goodwin and Laszewski with 31 combined points.

“Bench scoring. Look at that, bench scoring,” he said. “But again, those two guys, they’re great weapons. When we get them in the game, as you can see, we’ll run stuff for Dane; we screen for him to jumpstart him. We try and get Nate isolated in a screen and roll where he can get a look. I like how he’s driving the ball. People still hang their hat on his jump shot [but] he’s rebounding, he’s defending and he’s driving the ball. They both just look more like they belong in college basketball after a year.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Dane Goodwin rises for a jumper during Notre Dame’s 64-62 overtime win over Toledo on Nov. 21.

For Laszewski, his 16-point, three-block performance comes on the heels of a 10-point, six-rebound showing against Toledo, during which he sunk a fadeaway 3-point buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime where the Irish ultimately prevailed 64-62. Brey said that shot was imperative for Laszewski’s confidence as he and Goodwin both needed to improve their assertiveness from last year.

“I texted [Nate] the other day, I said, ‘You’ve arrived now, it’s official, OK? You banged that one down to get us to overtime and carry yourself a little differently,’ and certainly that’s a confidence-giving thing,” Brey said. “I thought Dane’s second half, you know, both of those guys are really gifted guys. Last year it was hard to get them to be aggressive offensively. They were too nice and … they weren’t really physically or mentally ready to do [it], but I think they are now, and we want them to be aggressive. The great thing is our seniors know we need them, so they keep encouraging them to be aggressive offensively.”

Also of note was the play of senior forwards Juwan Durham and John Mooney who each posted a double-double with a 12-point, 11-rebound performance for Durham and a 13-13 showing by Mooney. Brey complimented them on the dynamic they provide the Irish in the front court and the connection they have as teammates and friends.

“Those two guys are just so solid. They love playing together, they really do love playing together, and they look for each other. But to go double-doubles with your starting front-line guys is really powerful,” Brey said. “They have a neat thing … I think they’re good friends, they’re roommates. They look at themselves a little bit like a tag-team group. They talk and, just like the guards will have their little clique, they have their little big-guy clique. [Assistant] Coach Ryan [Humphrey] gets them down there, and they speak a different language. Hump speaks a different big man language to them. I don’t quite understand it but it works.”

The game unfolded in two stages, with the Irish jumping out to a 13-0 lead against the Knights (1-5) thanks to the defense forcing several missed shots. Brey was astounded by the job his defense did early on.

“What was it, they missed 18 straight shots? Wow,” he said.

However, the defense could not maintain that level of dominance as the Knights managed to keep the spread around 15 points from the end of the first half through the better part of the second half. Even so, Brey said it didn’t matter as much to him as seeing the offense’s capability of answering their runs.

“We were kinda playing zone. We weren’t really playing it well, but I could care less because I’m sitting there and I’m watching the offensive possessions and that’s a little bit of how we played in the past, where you can only match us bucket for bucket cause we’re efficient and we’re making shots,” Brey said. “And 24 assists, I mean, and playing the right way. Hopefully we can get a little confidence cause we’re certainly gonna need it next week with the two we have.”

Brey said the defense would need to improve, but he liked what he saw from their zone defense because of the advantage it provided in terms of energy conserved for the offense.

“We have been good defensively. We do love to defend, and they talk about it and we did start the game really digging in, and then I thought we let up a little bit,” he said. “We played more zone today but then I’m looking and going, sometimes when we played zone, whereas maybe you’re not digging in man-to-man as much, it helps you offensively. It helps you save some legs a little bit because guys aren’t chasing ball screens and stuff, and that may have helped us a bit.”

As Brey mentioned the 24 assists against the Knights and the efficiency from his offense, he complimented his team on playing the Notre Dame brand of basketball: take care of it and share it.

“That’s how we play. I look at assist to turnover in the team column throughout the game and how are we taking care of the ball, are we sharing it?” Brey said. “Even at the end there, there’s guys on the floor and the game is a 20-point game, guys are still playing the right way. Like [senior forward] Nik Djogo’s finding the right guy, [sophomore forward] Chris Doherty with a great pass. It’s part of the fabric, and it’s something we really hang our hat on is sharing it and taking care of it.”

He also talked about how it seems like the tide is turning for the Irish after two difficult, injury-plagued years.

“You know, it’s human nature, after you escape with your life the other night, you maybe feel the karma’s swinging to us a little bit. When the ball wedged in the [rim], I’m thinking, ‘Hey, maybe the karma’s coming,’ and then we run the play and Nate [hits the shot] and I’m going, ‘Oh, maybe it’s swinging back,’” Brey said alluding to the final sequence of regulation against Toledo. “It hadn’t been around in a while; it’s welcome anytime. Come on back good karma.”

After dropping the season-opener at North Carolina, the Irish have now run the table on their six-game homestand to open the year. Brey said these six games were important given how the Irish struggled to protect their home court last year.

“Well, one of the things we talked about [was] home identity. You gotta start there,” Brey said. “We lost eight games at home last year, we talked about it when we got off the bus from [the ACC Tournament in] Charlotte. … We have six games in 17 days, and we had a little bit of everything happen, and we had game pressure on us. And to get them, and feel a little better about playing on this floor, I think is a start for this group.”

The Irish return to the court Wednesday in College Park, Maryland, to take on the No.3 Terrapins as part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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