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Coolican: Ten potential successors for Mike Brey

Mike Brey’s announcement that he would step down at the end of the season means that Notre Dame will begin the process of searching for a new head coach for the first time in nearly 23 years — before most current students were even born. Brey’s act will certainly be a tough one to follow, but there is no shortage of suitable candidates. With that in mind, here are ten potential options for athletic director Jack Swarbrick to consider. 

Martin Ingelsby, head coach, Delaware

If Swarbrick wants to stay within the Brey coaching tree, Ingelsby makes a lot of sense. He was a star point guard for the Irish from 1997 to 2001 and eventually landed a job on Brey’s staff. He eventually moved on to become the head coach at Delaware in 2016. Ingelsby has slowly but steadily improved what was a floundering program when he took over, returning to the NCAA tournament last year. While Notre Dame more than likely wants to move in another direction after 23 years under Brey, if they hope to find his protegé, Ingelsby should get the call. 

Sean Sweeney, assistant coach, Dallas Mavericks 

The 38-year-old Sweeney has quietly developed a name for himself in the NBA coaching ranks. He has followed an unconventional path — he is a former Division III point guard — but he has become known as one of the top defensive minds in basketball and has personally helped develop stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo. To top things off, he is a huge Notre Dame fan, a football season ticket holder and has an offseason home in South Bend. He wouldn’t be the most conventional hire, but the upside is unquestionable. 

John Beilein, senior player development advisor, Detroit Pistons 

Beilein has been out of the college game for a few years now, but his success at Michigan is unquestioned. He racked up 278 wins as the head coach for the Wolverines and took them to nine NCAA tournaments in twelve years. He is also a devout Catholic and knows how to win at a Midwest, academically rigorous, football-focused school. He’s a proven winner who fits perfectly with Notre Dame’s culture; the only downside is the Irish may be looking for someone younger. 

Monty Williams, head coach, Phoenix Suns 

Williams is the ultimate long shot. It would be very difficult to lure away the head coach of an NBA Finals contender, but Notre Dame has to at least pick up the phone. Williams was a star for the Irish from 1989 to 1994 and is now widely considered one of the best coaches in the NBA. This would be extraordinarily unlikely, but if there is a home run hire on this list, Williams is it. 

Anthony Solomon, associate head coach, Notre Dame

Should Notre Dame promote internally, Solomon has more than earned his shot. He has been in college basketball for nearly 35 years and has been a part of Brey’s best teams with the Irish. He brings head coaching experience, having led St. Bonaventure from 2003-2007 and also coordinates Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts. Unlike other names on this list, the transition would be fairly smooth. 

Chris Quinn, assistant head coach, Miami Heat

Quinn, a two-time captain as a player under Brey, would be another intriguing, up-and-coming option for the Irish. After playing six years in the NBA, he joined the Miami Heat staff as an assistant coach. It may be difficult to lure him away from the NBA ranks — he is expected to be in consideration for a head coaching job sooner rather than later, but he would be another high-upside hire who has Midwest roots and knows the program well.  

Porter Moser, head coach, Oklahoma

If Swarbrick wants to poach the head coach from another high-major program, Moser is the first name that comes to mind. Fans will remember him from Loyola Chicago’s Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2018, and Moser has since parlayed that success into the job at Oklahoma. He found modest success in his first year with the Sooners, but Notre Dame has to be an attractive job for him and he has shown he can win at a Midwest, Catholic school, so he fits well.

Ryan Humphrey, assistant coach, Oklahoma 

A member of Moser’s staff could very well be an even more attractive hire. Humphrey spent six years as an assistant for Brey and spent two years with the Irish as a player. While in South Bend, he was key in the development of forwards Bonzie Colson and John Mooney, among others. Known for his player development, he would be a natural successor to Brey in that he can get the most out of players. 

Darian DeVries, head coach, Drake

As far as mid-major coaches looking for a promotion go, DeVries is likely near the top of every athletic director’s wish list. The two-time Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year has been at Drake since 2018 and has built a perennially successful program in what is a tough area to recruit in. His success as a program-builder may be exactly what Notre Dame needs as they rebuild from what has been a rough season.

Anthony Grant, head coach, Dayton

Grant is another coach who brings a great deal of experience. He led VCU for three years, before taking over at Alabama for six. Most recently, he has been at Dayton since 2017. His 2019-2020 squad was among the best mid-major teams in recent memory, and he could be in line for a promotion. His relatively poor record at Alabama is a question mark, but his experience makes him an intriguing option nonetheless.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Mike Brey, winningest head coach in Notre Dame history, to leave at end of season

Mike Brey, the winningest coach in Notre Dame men’s basketball history, plans to retire at the end of the season, the university announced Thursday afternoon. Brey is expected to tell the team after practice Thursday.

The news comes amidst a disappointing season for the Irish. A year after finishing second in the ACC and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, the team has slumped to a 1-7 conference record this year.

“Mike and I have talked often in recent years about a future transition in the program’s leadership and during our most recent conversation we reached the mutual conclusion that the end of this season represented the right time,” said athletic director Jack Swarbrick in an announcement posted on the athletic department’s website less than an hour after the news broke.

“It has been a great run for me and our program over the past two decades, but it is time for a new voice to lead this group into the future,” Brey said in the announcement. “I want to thank our student-athletes, assistant coaches and support staff who have played such a key role in the culture we have created.” 

Brey was hired to lead the Irish prior to the 2000-01 season, after spending five seasons at Delaware. He took over a program that hadn’t made the tournament in over a decade and not since the legendary Digger Phelps retired in 1991. Brey quickly made his own mark, qualifying for the tournament in each of his first three years with Notre Dame. 

He led the program through the transition to the ACC in 2013-14. In what is often considered among the toughest basketball conferences in the country, Brey made an immediate splash. In just their second year in the conference, the Irish won the ACC Tournament and made the first of what would be back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.

Brey has accumulated 481 wins in his 22-plus seasons at Notre Dame. He has coached numerous NBA players including Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant and most recently, Blake Wesley. While success has been harder to come by over the last five years, Brey has found success on the recruiting trail recently. The biggest example of that is freshman guard JJ Starling. The Baldwinsville, New York, native is the first five-star and highest-rated recruit ever to sign with Notre Dame.

Aside from his success on the court, Brey will also leave a legacy as the student’s coach. Prior to big games, he could often be found standing on tables in South Dining Hall or spectating intramural basketball games at North Dome, handing out tickets and encouraging students to attend. 

Notre Dame will have the rest of what appears to be a lost season to find a suitable successor for a coach who has become synonymous with the program he leads. They could opt to promote internally. Associate head coach Anthony Solomon is well-regarded and has been an integral part of the team’s success. Or the Irish could wait and see how the coaching pool shapes up in the offseason. 

Despite their struggles thus far, Notre Dame will try to turn their season, starting Saturday when Boston College comes to South Bend. Brey will address the media Friday morning.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Irish drop to 1-7 in ACC with loss to Seminoles

It was a Tuesday night must-win game for Notre Dame men’s basketball. But as has become a recurring theme this season, the Irish failed to deliver. After falling to 1-6 in conference play following a deflating road loss to Syracuse, the Irish needed to turn things around against a struggling Florida State team in front of a packed student section back from winter break.

Yet despite some electrifying moments that only served to underscore how much potential this team has, Florida State came away with the win behind red-hot starts to both halves. The Seminoles led by as many as 24 on two separate occasions and weathered multiple Irish runs, winning 84-71. 

Florida State immediately jumped out to a 13-0 lead behind hot shooting and a stingy defensive effort. The game opened with an impressive baseline cut for a layup and ferocious transition dunk. Irish head coach Mike Brey said that set the tone for the contest.

“Those first two possessions, now they’re confident as hell,” he said after the game. 

A mock cheer went up from the student section as graduate student forward Nate Laszewski knocked down a free throw to put the Irish on the board for the first time more than four minutes into the contest. But that didn’t stem the tide. 

“I told [the team], I really misread you. I thought from practice we’d be really digging in, and hungry, and a little more fight to us,” Brey said.

However, he also admitted that as the head coach, he must take full responsibility. Yet whoever is to blame — Brey, the veteran group of players, or a combination of both, time is running out to salvage the season.

Florida State extended its lead to 24 points just nine minutes into the contest. It seemed that all life had been sucked out of Purcell Pavilion.

“You try not to think about it like that, but when you put yourself in such a deep hole like that, especially in the first half, so early, it’s really tough,” graduate student guard Marcus Hammond said after the game. 

But the Irish wouldn’t roll over that easily. With a tenacity that has been lacking most of the season, the Irish rattled off a 21-3 run to pull within six points late in the first half. Hammond provided a much-needed spark off the bench for the Irish with 10 first-half points. He finished with a season-high 19 to lead the team in scoring.

Despite going into the locker room trailing by double digits, there was reason to expect Notre Dame would stay in the contest. But the beginning of the second half was very similar to that of the first. Florida State once again quickly opened up a 20-point lead. 

They knocked down eight of their first nine from the field after the break. Also like the first half, the Irish strung together a run which made the game slightly more interesting. The contest appeared to be all but over with nine minutes to play when Florida State opened up another 24–point lead. The Irish went on another double-digit scoring run to cut the lead to single digits. But the outcome was never truly in doubt. 

Notre Dame already had serious questions to answer after such a slow start in conference play. And they will only intensify after a double-digit loss to a team near the bottom of the ACC standings.

“This is a group that’s played a lot of basketball, they’re thoroughly disappointed where they’re at,” Brey said. “We all are.”

The next chance to right the ship for the Irish comes Saturday when Boston College visits South Bend. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Irish role players have big opportunity in Gator Bowl after opt-outs, transfers

As Notre Dame prepares for the Gator Bowl against South Carolina Friday afternoon in Jacksonville, they will be without several key players. 

Most notably, junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey have opted out of the contest in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne transferred to Arizona State, ending his Notre Dame career as well. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will also miss the game due to a shoulder injury. 

Here are some key players who will have increased workloads, and with strong performances, could make a case for an elevated role next season. 

Tight end Mitchell Evans

Well-known for his signature tight end sneak in short-yardage situations, Evans will have the opportunity to showcase a much wider range of abilities against the Gamecocks. Not even listed on Notre Dame’s first two-deep depth chart of the year, Evans earned a spot in the rotation thanks to his reliable play. Mayer’s departure leaves him as the top tight end heading into the bowl game. 

While Mayer will undoubtedly be difficult to replace, Notre Dame will have no shortage of options heading into next season. Junior Kevin Bauman, who was Mayer’s primary backup to begin the season, missed most of the year with a knee injury but is expected to return. Freshman Eli Raridon will return from injury as well, and the Irish also add highly-touted recruit, Cooper Flanagan, to the mix. 

Yet Mayer has commanded the lion’s share of targets over the past three years, which means that the position of his successor is effectively wide open. Notre Dame is well-known for its tight-end-heavy offense, meaning Evans will have a massive opportunity to show that he can be the top option heading into 2023. 

Defensive ends Nana Osafo-Mensah and Alexander Ehrensberger 

In the wake of Foskey’s departure, some new pass rushers will have the chance to make a name for themselves. Graduate student Justin Ademilola will take Foskey’s role as the primary Vyper, while junior Rylie Mills was listed as the top defensive end on the roster. Both of these players already have had substantial roles this season, so two lesser-utilized defensive ends will certainly rotate in and see plenty of snaps Friday. 

Osafo-Mensah tallied 11 total tackles and a forced fumble this year, while Ehrensberger has appeared in just three games this year, notching two tackles against Boston College. The defensive line position appears to be wide open next year. In addition to Foskey, at least one of the Ademilola twins will be graduating, although Justin has another year of eligibility if he chooses to stay at Notre Dame. Graduate transfer Chris Smith will also be departing.

This leaves several spots open. Mills and junior Jordan Botelho will both likely see expanded roles next year, but the defensive line is a position that requires a great deal of depth. With strong performances against South Carolina, Osafo-Mensah and Ehrensberger can take a step towards an increased role next year. 

Quarterback Steve Angeli 

Interestingly, the depth chart listed both sophomore Tyler Buchner and freshman Steve Angeli as the QB1 for the bowl game. Head coach Marcus Freeman has since specified that Buchner, as expected after Pyne’s transfer announcement, would be the starter. However, the “or” designation signifies that Angeli may be in line to get his first meaningful action of the season Friday. 

As rumors continue to swirl about potential transfer quarterbacks, Notre Dame could be in an interesting situation next year. While the coaching staff continues to insist that Buchner is fully healthy, injuries have plagued his short tenure with the Irish and he is 0-2 as a starter. While it is clear that Buchner has the talent to lead a team, his availability will remain a question mark. 

If Notre Dame doesn’t add a transfer signal caller, depth could be extremely thin at the position, with Buchner, Angeli and incoming freshman Kenny Minchey leading the group. This bowl game is extremely important for Buchner to prove himself, but it is also vital for Notre Dame to see what they have in Angeli. 

Cornerback Jaden Mickey

Hart’s continued injury gives Mickey another opportunity to prove himself. It has been an up-and-down season for the freshman corner, but he wasn’t expected to play as much as he has prior to the season. The comparisons to fellow freshman Benjamin Morrison and rising superstar are inevitable, but Mickey has generally played well in his role this year. 

However, with Hart set to return for the Irish and Morrison seemingly locked into the other starting role, Mickey needs to have a big game this weekend to show that he can be a continued factor in what is shaping up to be one of the nation’s better secondaries. Graduate student Tariq Bracy is set to graduate and Clarence Lewis continues to be an up-and-down performer. The opportunity is certainly there for Mickey if he can seize it.

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Irish drop third straight, fall to 0-2 in ACC play

Notre Dame dropped their third consecutive game and fell to 0-2 in ACC play Wednesday night in Tallahassee. Florida State played much better than their 3-10 record coming into the contest would indicate, but Notre Dame squandered numerous chances throughout the game as the Seminoles survived with a 73-72 victory.

“I feel for us because we really gave ourselves a chance to win,” head coach Mike Brey said after the game. 

Despite trailing most of the second half, Notre Dame had an opportunity to take the lead with less than five seconds to play. However, an errant pass from graduate student guard Trey Wertz sealed the defeat. 

“We couldn’t finish it,” Brey said. “I thought we were actually a little better than we were the two previous games. Maybe we’ve got a little something to build on.” 

Most recently, Notre Dame suffered consecutive 15-point defeats to Georgia and Marquette, after falling to Syracuse by a point to open ACC play. Their only win in the past five games came against Boston University. They’re 7-5 overall after starting the season 6-1.

Notre Dame shot the lights out at times during the opening twenty minutes Wednesday — at one point, the Irish scored on 10 consecutive possessions. Yet at others, they simply could not find the bottom of the basket, going scoreless for several minutes at a time. 

Florida State jumped out to a 10-3 lead to open the contest, yet Notre Dame went on an 11-0 run spanning less than two minutes to take a 21-14 advantage. Eventually, the Irish took a double-digit lead midway through the half, but Florida State battled back, retaking the lead after a stretch of abysmal shooting from Notre Dame. The Irish entered the locker room clinging to a one-point advantage. 

Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin was a force on the offensive glass for Notre Dame in the first half. He grabbed six rebounds, including four on the offensive end, leading to several second-chance opportunities, but he was quiet in the second half. 

It was another freshman who took over down the stretch for the Irish. JJ Starling continued his hot stretch by scoring a game-high 20 points, including several key shots in the last few minutes which kept Notre Dame in the game. He scored the last six points of the contest, but it wasn’t quite enough. 

“He just keeps getting better,” Brey said of Starling’s recent string of performances. “He’s got a great poise about him.”

The Seminoles built a slight lead early in the second half. They never ran away with the game, never leading by more than eight, but they kept Notre Dame at arm’s length. Every time the Irish seemed poised to retake the lead, Florida State would punch back. 

Starling scored again to cut the lead to just a point with 37 seconds to play. However, Brey elected not to foul. Florida State had just four team fouls, meaning that they had two fouls to give before the Irish would be in the bonus. The Seminoles held the ball to the very end of the shot clock before missing a three-pointer. Notre Dame had one last chance with 6.5 seconds remaining in the contest. 

Yet Florida State could foul twice, whittling away precious time. Perhaps anticipating this strategy, Wertz quickly threw the ball ahead, attempting to find graduate guard Cormac Ryan. He was unsuccessful, the ball went out of bounds, and the Seminoles held on for a one-point lead. 

“I thought Trey’s read on the cut by Cormac there at the end was great. He just threw it a little long,” Brey said. “I don’t want him losing sleep on it, even though I’m sure he will.”

Following the loss, Notre Dame has plummeted to the bottom of the ACC standings. They lost each of their first two conference games by just a point. The Irish have a chance to regain their confidence against non-conference foe Jacksonville after the holiday break before ACC play begins in earnest.

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Drew Pyne to enter transfer portal

Notre Dame starting quarterback Drew Pyne will enter the transfer portal, he announced on Twitter Friday afternoon. He is not expected to compete in the team’s upcoming bowl game, according to multiple sources. 

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote on Twitter. “I have been blessed to be among great coaches and teachers and play with teammates I consider brothers. Now, it’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

The junior signal caller was thrust into action when sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner went down with a shoulder injury late in the second game of the season against Marshall. After assuming the starting role, Pyne completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards this year. He threw for 22 touchdowns against six interceptions, also adding two scores on the ground. 

It was an up-and-down season for Pyne, yet he finished with the fourth-highest passer rating in Notre Dame’s history and went 8-2 as a starter. 

The former four-star recruit from New Cannan, Conn. arrived in South Bend prior to the 2020 season, where he served as the third-string quarterback behind Ian Book and Brendan Clark. Last year, alongside Buchner, he backed up Jack Coan, but all three quarterbacks saw meaningful action. He entered the game in the second half against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in September, and completed 6 of 8 passes for 81 yards and a score, helping lead the Irish to victory with a 31-point fourth quarter. 

This year, he was expected to challenge for the starting job but was outperformed by Buchner in fall camp, who was named the starter prior to the season opener. But after Buchner’s injury, Pyne got his chance. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman had hinted that Buchner could be cleared to play in the bowl game, and Football Scoops writer John Brice tweeted Tuesday after Pyne’s announcement that the true sophomore is expected to suit up. Without Pyne in the mix and if Buchner is left off the roster, it will come down to four-star freshman Steve Angeli who has seen very limited action this season. Notre Dame also recently received a commitment from Kenny Minchey, a four-star quarterback in the class of 2023. 

The Irish will find out their postseason fate Sunday.

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Irish dominate Spartans, earn signature win

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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Four key moments from Notre Dame’s dominant win over Michigan State

Notre Dame dominated No. 20 Michigan State from start to finish Wednesday night at Purcell Pavillion, earning a signature win in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Here are four key moments from the victory: 

Ryan leads first half three point barrage 

The Irish offense was clicking on all cylinders early, led by graduate student guard Cormac Ryan. He lit up the Spartans en route to 20 first half points on 7-8 shooting, including 5-5 from beyond the arc. With just over five minutes left in the opening frame, he went on a personal 8-0 run. 

He scored five points in just 11 seconds, drilling a three before scoring in the paint after the Spartans committed an offensive foul. After the Irish defense got another stop, he knocked down yet another triple to extend the Irish lead to 39-16, sending Purcell Pavilion into a frenzy. 

Less than a week after the Irish went 2-17 from beyond the arc in a loss to St. Bonaventure, they knocked down 62% of their attempts from deep in the first half Wednesday, while holding the Spartans to just 29%. 

Irish defense puts clamps on Spartans early

Michigan State came into the game averaging nearly 74 points per contest against a slew of ranked teams, but Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t deterred on Wednesday night. Right from the opening tip, the Irish defense swarmed the Spartans, forcing bad shots and turnovers all night. 

The Spartans converted on just one of their first nine attempts from the field, and their 24 first half points marked a season low. Graduate student forward Nate Laszewski was particularly impressive defensively for the Irish, consistently shutting down the Spartan’s big men. The first few minutes was merely a precursor of what was to come as Mike Brey’s defense made life miserable for Tom Izzo’s squad all night. 

10-0 opening run sparks offense 

The dominant defense in the opening minutes allowed Notre Dame’s offense to find its groove as well. Despite starting relatively slowly —the Irish led just 5-2 at the first media timeout — the offense eventually hit its stride, scoring 10 straight points after Michigan State’s opening bucket. 

Laszewski scored four, freshman guard JJ Starling added three and Ryan capped off the run with his first three pointer of the night. The Irish built a 10-2 lead over the first six-plus minutes, which ultimately proved to be insurmountable for the Spartans. The Irish led by double digits for the final thirty minutes of the contest. 

Laszewski dunk puts game away 

It’s difficult to pin down one moment in which this contest was definitively over, as Notre Dame led by 18 points at halftime and held the Spartans at arm’s length throughout the second half. The large contingent of Michigan State fans who had made the journey from East Lansing tried their best to get their team back into the contest, but each time the Spartans made a run, the Irish would respond in kind. 

On one such occasion midway through the period, as the Spartans made a push, Laszewski knocked down a three while falling to the ground, and on the next possession, found himself open on a cut to the basket and threw down a vicious slam. The dunk came in the midst of a 9-0 run for the Irish which would put them up by 23 and take any remaining wind out of the Spartans’ sails. Laszewski scored just nine points in the contest, after coming in averaging more than 18, but his impact for the Irish was far greater than his numbers indicated.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu

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Keys to victory vs USC

Notre Dame concludes their regular season campaign this weekend as they travel to Los Angeles to take on USC. Both teams come in playing some of their best football, after the Trojans dispatched crosstown rival UCLA last week, while the Irish put up a dominant performance in the snow in South Bend. Here are the keys to a fifth-straight Notre Dame victory in the series. 

Benjamin Morrison

A month ago, it would have been unthinkable to list the freshman cornerback as a key to victory in arguably the biggest game of the season for the Irish. It speaks to Morrison’s meteoric rise from a three-star recruit not expected to get much playing time to one of Notre Dame’s most important defensive players. He broke out onto the scene with two interceptions, including a 96-yard pick-six, against Clemson. He added three more picks last weekend against Boston College. 

This week, especially with senior cornerback Cam Hart listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, Morrison’s performance will be critical to Notre Dame’s success. USC has one of the best passing offenses in the country, led by potential top-ten pick Jordan Addison. Slowing Addison down, who won the Fred Biletnikoff award a year ago as the nation’s top receiver, would be a difficult task for anyone, much less a freshman cornerback who only broke into the starting lineup relatively recently. 

If anyone can do it, however, it is Morrison. He has all the tools necessary to be a top cornerback and is improving by leaps and bounds each week. Addison torched the Bruins a week ago for 178 yards and a touchdown. If the Irish want to leave the Coliseum with a win, they can’t let that happen again. Even aside from Addison, quarterback Caleb Williams has an impressive array of weapons all over the field, and Morrison will be key to slowing down the Trojans. 

Start fast, but compete for four quarters 

One of Notre Dame’s keys to success all year has been strong first halves, particularly the past several games. In their previous two outings against Navy and Boston College, the Irish scored 35 and 37 points in the opening two quarters, respectively. 

Against the Trojans and their balanced offensive attack, it will be important for Notre Dame to get off to a hot start. The Trojans score early and often. They rank third in the nation at 42.9 points per contest, behind only offensive juggernauts Ohio State and Tennessee. 

Notre Dame’s defense may be able to limit the damage, but they won’t be able to stop this high-powered offense completely. If the Irish allow the Trojans to build a big first-quarter lead, the game could be very quickly out of reach. For Notre Dame to stay in the contest, they’ll have to get off to a fast start. 

However, the Irish still need to play a full four quarters of football. While they’ve been dominant in the first half, the second halves of games have often left something to be desired, particularly against Navy two weeks ago. The Irish need to start fast but keep their foot on the gas pedal throughout the contest. 

Continued excellence on special teams 

The Irish have been excellent on special teams all season long, and this has often tipped the balance of games in their favor. Notre Dame leads the nation in blocked punts with seven. Additionally, graduate student punter Jon Sot has been among the best in the nation at flipping field position for the Irish. Sot was recently named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award, given annually to the nation’s top punter. 

This game could be decided by a razor-thin margin–current odds have the Trojans as 5.5-point favorites. In a game like that, special teams could make all the difference. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe has been consistent but not great from distance this year for the Irish. He’s hit on all five of his field goals under 30 yards but is just 6-10 from 40 or more yards out with a long of 47. He’ll likely have to make a big kick on Saturday.

Notre Dame must also limit mistakes on special teams. Graduate student wide receiver Matt Salerno’s muffed punt against the Eagles was inconsequential, but it can’t happen against a team like USC who can make you pay for it. 

Special teams will be a point of emphasis for both sides this weekend–the Irish can swing the game in their favor with a big special teams play as they have done all season, but they can also lose their momentum just as quickly.

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Sports

Braden Lenzy weathers change in up-and-down Notre Dame career

Braden Lenzy has seen many changes throughout his career at Notre Dame. From a change in offensive coordinator, to his own role in the offense and eventually a head coaching change, not much remains the same as it did when he first arrived on campus in 2018. 

Initially, his role in the offense was a combination of receiver and running back. After redshirting his freshman year, Lenzy emerged onto the scene as a sophomore, hauling in 11 passes for 254 yards and a pair of scores, while adding 200 yards and another two touchdowns on the ground. 

“I’ve been used in a lot of ways,” Lenzy said. “When you’re in college, whatever the pieces are that year, the coach comes up with a game plan that best helps the team, and my role is what it is right now, and I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team win. It’s been a lot of fun.” 

More recently, his role has shifted towards being a full-time wide receiver. As a senior in 2021, he hauled in 32 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Many expected him to build on that breakout performance this year, but his performance has tapered off slightly. He did, however, make an incredible touchdown catch in last weekend’s win over Navy which helped spark an Irish victory. 

Lenzy arrived in South Bend as a highly touted prospect. He was a four-star recruit out of Portland, Oregon, choosing the Irish over schools like Oregon, USC and Michigan State. 

“Recruitment was very [stressful], very much a hassle. I’m glad I never have to go through it again,” Lenzy said. “If I could do it all over again, I’d for sure choose Notre Dame, [it’s] been a great help both on and off the field. I’ve met the best people in my life and really started my adult life here.”

One of the most abrupt transitions of Lenzy’s career was Brian Kelly’s sudden departure for LSU at the conclusion of the 2021 season. New head coach Marcus Freeman was able to retain most of Kelly’s former assistants, including director of football performance Matt Balis, which Lenzy said contributed to a sense of continuity. 

“The level of work is set by him, he sets the standard for everyone,” Lenzy said of Balis. “Bringing him back, it still felt like Notre Dame.”

Lenzy was a part of two College Football Playoff teams, watching from the sidelines as Notre Dame rattled off an undefeated season in 2018 before they again were selected to the Playoff in 2020. This year, though, was not what Irish fans were expecting. 

“We’ve had the winning formula for a long time, a lot of us have won a lot of games,” Lenzy said. “Quite honestly, you just have to take it on the chin. I think Irish fans as a whole have been very privileged for us to win those tight games when it does happen.” 

September’s loss against Marshall was only the second home loss of Lenzy’s career, and the first loss against an unranked opponent. Notre Dame followed it up by once again losing to a double digit underdog, this time to Stanford. 

“We’ve had these mistakes and we were able to correct them, and this time we weren’t,” Lenzy said. “But now we’ve seen it, we’ve addressed it… just kind of stepping up and going through those bumps of an in-season grind.”

Yet the Irish were able to turn the season around, and now they sit at 7-3 with two games to go. Lenzy credited continual growth for the Irish’s second half turnaround this year: “You could really see a lot of the coaches, a lot of the players, while in the offseason, but also very much so during the season, have grown on and off the field.” 

Notre Dame has welcomed plenty of new talent into the wide receiver room in recent years, notably sophomore Lorenzo Styles and freshman Tobias Merriweather. Lenzy sees himself as a mentor for that group of younger players. 

“Every year you have different tasks,” he said. “Right now, my biggest task is being a leader for the young dudes in the receiver room.”

Lenzy was able to learn from receivers such as Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin and Chris Finke when he arrived as a freshman. Now, Lenzy hopes he can fill that same role. 

“It’s a very full circle moment,” Lenzy said. “I remember being younger and looking up to some of the old dudes. I hope they look up to me the same way.”