Irish lose 71-61 to Western Carolina despite Booth’s 20-point game
Henry Lytle | Monday, November 13, 2023
With the spotlight on freshman Markus Burton after a thrilling 29 points in his Notre Dame debut, Irish fans were hopeful for a strong start to the season. However, Western Carolina was certainly a more difficult test than Niagara. Holding Burton to 17 points on 6-15 shooting and fellow freshman Braeden Shrewsberry scoreless, the Catamounts had a strong game plan and forced other players to make big shots for the Irish.
“We focused our game plan on stopping those guards and forcing the big men to beat us shooting,” said Western Carolina coach Justin Gray. “Carey Booth had a career night with 20 points and four made threes. But it was not enough down the stretch for the Irish to win. “
Senior forward Matt Zona knocked down the first three of the game for the Irish. But the Catamounts jumped out to a 17-9 lead early and never looked back. Led by Russell Jones Jr. who had 20 points on 72% shooting, Western Carolina controlled the first half and entered the break up 43-29. Down 46-29 with 17:16 in the second half, the Irish offense seemed stagnant. Then, slowly but surely, they clawed their way back into the game. Capped off by hustle plays from junior guard Julian Roper II diving for loose balls and grabbing 8 rebounds, the Irish found themselves with another chance to make a comeback.
With 6:08 left in the second, Booth hit his second three of the game cutting the deficit to 55-51. Then, the freshman caught fire, drilling his next 2 threes to bring it to 60-57. With the Irish on an 18-5 run over 8 minutes, Gray did not call a timeout. When asked this question after the game he said: “We had a game plan and I trusted my guys down the stretch.” Gray certainly trusted senior Vonterius Woolbright, who led the Catamounts with 22 points and 11 rebounds to earn his 11th career double-double. Scoring 6 points alone in the last 3 minutes, Woolbright helped shut down the Irish comeback as they managed only 4 points in the last 3 minutes. Falling 71-61 to the Catamounts, Carey Booth’s career night with 20 points and 9 rebounds was not enough to lead Notre Dame to victory.
The Irish continued the trend of slow starts to open both the first and second half. With the team shooting a combined 11-43 (25.6%) from 3 over the first 2 games, the offense has struggled to be consistent. Shrewsberry was scoreless during the contest, shooting 0-6 from the 3-point line. The Irish have also struggled to create looks passing the ball with only 19 assists this year.
“We need to do a better job passing. 19 assists on the season is not good enough,” said Irish head coach Micah Shrewsberry.
With 2 games against non-conference opponents that have relied on huge nights out of Burton and Booth to even compete, there are a lot of questions for the Irish to answer before conference play begins. Notre Dame will have to find ways to generate better shots for the rest of the team before conference play begins. All eyes will be on Burton and Booth as they take on an experienced Auburn team on Nov. 16.