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Irish dominate Spartans, earn signature win

| Friday, December 2, 2022

Notre Dame men’s basketball earned a signature win Wednesday night against No. 20 Michigan State. Behind a dominant first half from graduate student guard Cormac Ryan and a suffocating defensive performance, the Irish dispatched the Spartans 70-52 in front of a raucous home crowd.

Michigan State brought a large contingent of fans with them from East Lansing. They made their presence known early, with their signature “Go Green, Go White” chant ringing out through Purcell Pavilion as the Spartans lineup was introduced. But once the game began, they were quickly drowned out by the boisterous Irish fans, which included a packed student section despite the late weeknight tipoff.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” freshman guard JJ Starling said. “We just fed off of it, we just created our own energy off of that … They helped us win that game.”

“When you have a great crowd and everybody comes, and our students especially, you want to deliver for them,” head coach Mike Brey said. “Hopefully that keeps them coming back.”

After Michigan State opened the scoring, Notre Dame went on a 10-0 run which spanned nearly five minutes, and never looked back. Ryan hit a three to cap off the run, which would be the first of many. He scored 20 first-half points on 7-8 shooting, including 5-5 from beyond the arc.

“I think our focus was really good, I think our energy was really good and it’s a big game, guys rise to the occasion,” Ryan said. “We wanted it bad, we know how much this means for our tournament aspirations.”

“I’ve got the utmost respect for this guy,” head coach Mike Brey said of Ryan. “He’s the voice, he sets the tone, he knows this is the one to get us going.”

At one point, he went on a personal 8-0 run, which gave the Irish their largest lead of the night (23 points) and sent Purcell Pavilion into a frenzy. Not only was he the star of the game offensively, but he also limited Michigan State star Tyson Walker to a rough 4-13 shooting night, all while playing the entirety of the contest.

“I love guarding great players,” Ryan said. “He’s a great scorer, so I always like to do my part and make their night hard,” adding that the entire team came together to shut down the Spartans. 

“We really connected as five. Defense is such a team assignment,” he said. “I think we really put it together tonight.”

The win comes just five days after Notre Dame was held to just 2-17 from beyond the arc in a loss to St. Bonaventure on Long Island. In this game, by contrast, the Irish knocked down eight of their 13 attempts in the first half alone, while holding the Spartans to just four makes all game. 

“I think we were due for one,” Ryan said. “We have guys who are too good at playing the right way, and I think we were still trying to find ourselves, and we picked a good night to figure it out.”

Notre Dame led by as many as 23 points in the first half and entered the locker room holding an insurmountable 42-24 lead. Michigan State battled back several times in the second half, at one point cutting the lead to 14. But the outcome was never truly in doubt.

Graduate student forward Nate Laszewski highlighted a 9-0 run midway through the second frame with a vicious slam as he found himself unguarded on a cut to the basket. That run, which put the Irish up by 23 points with just over six minutes to play, proved to be the dagger. 

Laszewski, who came in averaging a team-leading 18.2 points per game, took a back seat offensively Wednesday, scoring just nine points. But he was instrumental in anchoring an Irish defense that held the Spartans to a season-low offensive output.

Starling added nine of his 14 points in the second half, and also showcased his impressive defensive potential. He skied to reject a Michigan State shot late in the game, showing off the athleticism that helped him become the highest-rated recruit to sign with the Irish in the 247 Sports era.

Notre Dame will look to build on the win with conference play set to begin. Syracuse visits South Bend on Saturday to open ACC play. That game tips off at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.

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