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Irish drop ACC opener against Syracuse in final seconds

All season long, Notre Dame men’s basketball has come through in late-game situations to pull out narrow victories. On Saturday, the Irish came up just short of doing so once again, falling 62-61 to Syracuse after Orange guard Judah Mintz’s game-winning layup in the final seconds. With the loss, the Irish will begin ACC play with an 0-1 record for the fifth straight season.

“We figured it would [come down to] game situations,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said after the game. “We needed to get that one stop and we couldn’t get it.”

Despite the noon tip-off at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame’s offense came out firing. In a continuation of the hot shooting performance that helped them take down No. 20 Michigan State on Wednesday, graduate student guards Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan each made a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes as the Irish built an early advantage.

However, the Orange quickly erased that lead behind the dominant play of Jesse Edwards. Notre Dame had no answer for the 6-foot-11 senior and allowed him to dominate the boards and score around the basket at will. Edwards scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half alone before the Irish utilized frequent double teams after halftime in order to limit his impact.

Early in the half, Irish freshman guard JJ Starling briefly went to the locker room after a shoulder injury. He returned to the game soon after and was impactful on both ends of the court despite struggling to make shots. Starling, as he has consistently done throughout the season, used his elite quickness to effortlessly drive past defenders and finish at the rim several times on his way to seven points. Brey lamented the Irish offense not being able to present Starling with more opportunities to attack Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone.

“I know [Starling] had a tough night shooting but I’m thrilled with where he’s at. He’s guarding, he’s defending, I thought he was great with the ball,” Brey said. “We probably have to look at ways of getting him drives more against zone.”

The latter stages of the first half turned into a back-and-forth affair, with Syracuse’s Edwards and Joe Girard III keeping the Orange in the game despite Notre Dame making 8 threes in the period. The teams went into the break knotted at 35-35.

After an explosive start, the game quickly became a defensive struggle, primarily due to some timely defensive adjustments made by Syracuse. In the first half, the Orange had struggled to defend the high post, allowing Notre Dame players to receive passes and either shoot or find open shooters in the corners. Following the halftime break, Syracuse moved Edwards higher up in their zone to take away those opportunities, and the effect that it had on limiting the Irish’s ball movement was noticeable.

“They had us pushed out a little bit more in the second half, as that zone can do,” Brey said. “We couldn’t get into the lane to kick it out, we couldn’t get to the foul line.”

Several of Notre Dame’s second-half possessions saw them unable to get the ball inside the arc and eventually be forced to settle for a difficult three-point attempt late in the shot clock. Syracuse’s changes were perhaps most targeted at stopping Goodwin, who is extremely effective in that high post area and scored 13 points in the first half. Goodwin was complimentary of Syracuse’s second-half defense after the game.

“We couldn’t really get it into the middle, kind of just passed it around up top and then got [in late shot-clock situations] and we weren’t really sure what to do,” Goodwin said. “That’s just a matter of working through it and figuring it out as we go, but credit to [Syracuse]. They made some changes and we couldn’t figure it out.”

With newly-open space in the back of Syracuse’s defense, Notre Dame looked to take advantage by attempting passes over the top on several occasions. While this was effective at times, such as when Starling found fellow freshman Ven-Allen Lubin for a huge alley-oop dunk in the second half, a lack of execution forced the Irish into several turnovers.

“The [plays] that stick in my mind are when they creep up, they push you out, we throw over the top and I think we were 2-7 [on converting those passes],” Brey said. “Then they’re just pushing you out further because you haven’t made them pay over the top.”

With just over two minutes left to play, a Girard III layup put Syracuse ahead 60-55, their largest lead of the game. The Irish responded quickly, as Ryan drilled a clutch three-pointer, his fourth of the game, to trim the lead back down to two. After getting a critical stop on defense, Notre Dame graduate student guard Marcus Hammond made a tough jump shot while being fouled to tie the game. After he converted on the ensuing free throw, the Irish led by one with under 30 seconds remaining. Hammond, a transfer from Niagara, played in his first game with the Irish after suffering an MCL sprain in the preseason. He contributed six points and three assists in 19 minutes off the bench and Brey spoke about how impressed he was with Hammond’s play.

“We throw him into the fire and I thought he was fabulous. He’s in there making plays, he makes the play to give us the lead, steps up and makes the free throw,” Brey said. “We throw him in an ACC game after five weeks off and he’s not afraid.”

Trailing by one, Syracuse looked to Mintz, a freshman who showed veteran poise to put the Orange ahead after what had been a tough game for him offensively. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim described Mintz as someone who “wants to take that shot.” In the final seconds, Notre Dame found Goodwin, who had made a game-winning three-pointer against Lipscomb earlier in the season. While that shot had been a clean, wide-open look, he was forced to take a heavily contested fadeaway from deep in the corner against Syracuse. Goodwin’s shot was on line but just short, and the Orange walked away as 62-61 winners after spoiling what could have been a perfect week for the Irish.

With the loss, Notre Dame falls to 6-2 (0-1 ACC) but remains optimistic in the fact that their roster is now at full strength for the first time all season following Hammond’s return. According to Brey, this will allow the Irish to get valuable practice reps in advance of two games next week, something they have been unable to do thus far. Up next, Notre Dame will look to take care of business at home against non-conference opponents, playing host to Boston University on Wednesday and Marquette on Sunday.

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Irish look to bounce back against No. 20 Michigan State

On Wednesday night, Notre Dame men’s basketball faces its toughest test to date as they host No. 20 Michigan State. On the heels of their first loss of the season, the Irish will look to get back in the winning column with a marquee victory against a battle-tested Spartan team. The game comes as part of the final iteration of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as it was announced earlier in the week that the event will be replaced by the ACC-SEC Challenge next season.

The Irish (5-1) enter the matchup having split their previous two games. Last Tuesday, Notre Dame led Bowling Green by just one point with under eight minutes to play but continued the habit of playing their best basketball during crunch time. The Irish used a decisive 17-0 run to coast to an 82-66 win that was much closer than the score would indicate.

On Friday afternoon, Notre Dame saw their undefeated start slip away in their first trip away from Purcell Pavilion. Facing St. Bonaventure in a neutral site matchup, the Irish struggled to find their footing offensively in a 63-51 defeat. Notre Dame converted on just 2 of 17 three-point attempts, uncharacteristic for a team that had previously averaged nearly 80 points per game behind strong perimeter shooting. On Monday, Irish head coach Mike Brey spoke about how the Bonnies took his team out of their comfort zone offensively.

“I think there’s no question that the ball pressure bothered us, the athletic ability pushed us out a little bit. You get off to a horrible start and you’re kind of uptight,” Brey said. “We’re struggling to find that rhythm.”

The Irish will need to find it fast as they prepare for Michigan State (5-2), who has been among the nation’s most impressive teams this season. The Spartans, unranked in the preseason, have ascended the polls after holding their own against an unforgiving early schedule. Michigan State has picked up wins against No. 19 Kentucky, Villanova and Oregon, while their losses have come in tight contests against No. 14 Gonzaga and No. 11 Alabama. After consecutive wins to close out the Phil Knight Invitational last week, the Spartans will look to keep rolling in what will be their first true road game of the season.

Wednesday’s game pits Notre Dame against their first ranked opponent as well as their first from a major conference. Brey made no attempt to downplay the game’s significance but did not want the Irish to be mentally bogged down by the high stakes at hand.

“These are your power games now, you have a great opportunity here,” Brey said, speaking on the Michigan State game and the Irish’s upcoming ACC opener against Syracuse. “It’s a fine line of [paying] attention to detail but being loose and going for it. Playing but not playing with the weight of the world. I think that’s kind of the balance point that you try to strike with these guys.”

Luckily, the Irish roster is loaded with players that have experience in finding that balance. Graduate students Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, Trey Wertz and Cormac Ryan all played key roles in the team’s run to the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. After strong starts to the season offensively, particularly from Laszewski and Goodwin, the quartet struggled to put the ball in the basket against St. Bonaventure, combining to shoot under 30% from the floor. Brey is confident that the veteran core will shake off the tough night and return to the high level of play that they exhibited to start the season.

“This is why they came back, for these kinds of games,” Brey said. “I trust them because the four of them have been in big games and great atmospheres here.”

Ryan described his excitement for a primetime game in front of Notre Dame’s home crowd.

“I think Wednesday will be fun,” Ryan said. “We love playing in [Purcell]. Our students are amazing and our fanbase has been really strong for as long as I can remember.”

While the veterans will need to be at their best against Michigan State, Notre Dame has gotten a boost by the play of its freshmen in the last week. Against Bowling Green, JJ Starling erupted for a career-high 23 points while missing just one field goal attempt. Starling added six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the best all-around performance of his young career. He, along with the rest of the Irish, struggled to find his shot on Friday, but appears more comfortable by the day as he establishes himself as one of the ACC’s best rookies.

Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin was arguably Notre Dame’s top performer against St. Bonaventure. Coming off the bench, he secured his first career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. The Irish currently rank last in the ACC (and No. 343 nationally) in rebounding. Lubin’s status as the team’s only true interior player makes his play critical against Michigan State, especially on the glass. Lubin spoke about his blossoming confidence in his first season with the Irish.

“I feel like my role here is really important to this team,” Lubin said. “If I continue to produce the way that I did last game, I feel like I can make an impact here.”

Ryan reinforced the importance of Lubin’s game as a change of pace for Notre Dame’s perimeter-oriented roster.

“Ven’s been amazing,” Ryan said. “I think he brings physicality and athleticism to our group. We need him playing with confidence just like everybody else.”

On Monday, Brey said that Notre Dame’s shooting woes against St. Bonaventure can be partly attributed to exhaustion, as just six players have absorbed nearly all of the team’s minutes. They are unlikely to find any relief on Wednesday, as Brey indicated that graduate student guard Marcus Hammond, who has yet to play this season as he recovers from an MCL sprain, is a “longshot” to take the floor against the Spartans. Hammond has practiced this week and is on track to return Saturday against Syracuse.

Battling that fatigue will be just as important on the defensive end, where the Irish will look to slow down a high-powered Spartan attack. Senior guard Tyson Walker (15.6 ppg, 4.6 apg) does much of the damage for Michigan State. Senior forward Joey Hauser (13.9 ppg, 47.2 3P%) is one of the nation’s premier shooters. Limiting Hauser’s long-range opportunities will be key for the Irish, whose “bend, but don’t break” defense has focused on preventing threes at the expense of allowing easy two-point opportunities. After struggling defensively to start the season, Notre Dame has held its last three opponents under 70 points. A similar effort, coupled with a return to form in terms of shooting, will put the Irish in position to take down the Spartans.

Wednesday night’s game presents many opportunities for Notre Dame. The Irish have the chance to get back in the winning column after their first defeat, to earn their first marquee win and to begin the season-long task of building an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume. Ryan is confident that the team will be at their best.

“That’s why you play the game. You want to play big games, big-time opponents, especially when you have a team as good as we do. You want to go up and see what you’re made of, go up and battle against great teams,” Ryan said. “We obviously know what we’re capable of and we’re ready for it.”

Notre Dame faces Michigan State on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. on ESPN2.

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Irish gear up to face Bowling Green, St. Bonaventure in Gotham Classic

On Friday night, Notre Dame graduate student guard Dane Goodwin made a three-pointer to push the Irish men’s basketball team past Lipscomb in the game’s final seconds. That win was Notre Dame’s fourth in a span of just nine days, and their second in which the outcome remained in doubt until the final buzzer. For an Irish team whose rotation has included just six players to start the season, this weekend provided some much-needed rest.

“[We] have to take an off day,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said after the Lipscomb game. “It’s almost like two days of getting their legs under them and then a good tune-up on Monday.”

Following that tune-up, Notre Dame will be back in action twice during Thanksgiving week. The Irish will host Bowling Green on Tuesday before traveling to face St. Bonaventure at the New York Islanders’ UBS Arena on Friday, their first time leaving the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion this season. Those games come as part of the Gotham Classic, an event that the Irish began in their home win against Southern Indiana last Wednesday. Notre Dame will look to continue their undefeated start to the season and add two more quality wins to their resume as they move closer to ACC play.

Saturday provided the Irish with rare time off, but it also served as a perfect scouting opportunity for the coming week, as their next two opponents faced off in an afternoon matchup. Playing at home, St. Bonaventure used a 48-point second half to defeat Bowling Green 81-68, pushing the record of both teams to 2-2. Each team presents a unique set of challenges for a Notre Dame team that has relied on the clutch play of their veteran lineup to consistently win games despite struggling for long stretches.

First-half play looms large against Bowling Green

Closing out games has been a weakness for Bowling Green this season. The Eagles have been outscored in the second half of each of their first four games. They are 2-0 when leading at halftime and 0-2 when trailing. Notre Dame, having held halftime leads in every game this season, has consistently started strong. Doing so against a Bowling Green team that has shown an inability to overcome second-half deficits would put the Irish in a good position to win. This is especially true considering how well the Irish have executed in late-game situations, part of the benefit of having four graduate students in their starting lineup.

Offensively, the Eagles are led by seniors Leon Ayers III (20.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Samari Curtis (13.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg), big guards that prefer to get to the rim rather than take perimeter jump shots. As a team, Bowling Green has shot under 30% from the three-point range on the season. This plays into the hands of Notre Dame, who has shown a willingness to cede two-pointers in order to limit threes as much as possible. Brey discussed the Irish’s defensive philosophy following the Lipscomb game.

“As long as it wasn’t a three, I thought we’d have a chance. It’s a weird way of looking at it… [but] all of those layups only count for two,” Brey said. “We were switching everything because we were just worried about shooters. We’re out on people, so there are going to be some driving areas, but at least we were chasing them off the arc.”

By limiting Bowling Green’s long-range opportunities, especially in the first half, Notre Dame will hope that its own shooters, currently sitting at an elite 40% clip from beyond the arc, will provide enough of an edge to finish their homestand with a win over the Eagles.

Ryan’s defense crucial to stop St. Bonaventure

Despite losing several key players to the transfer portal, St. Bonaventure will likely be the strongest team that Notre Dame has matched up with to date. The Bonnies took down Bowling Green with relative ease and will have home-court advantage against the Irish on Friday.

Like Bowling Green, the Bonnies play through their guards. Unlike the Eagles, however, those guards are eager to shoot as many three-pointers as possible and have been extremely effective while doing so. St. Bonaventure’s leading scorer is Daryl Banks III, who has made nearly four three-pointers per game at a 42% rate while averaging over 20 points. Fans may remember Banks for leading St. Peter’s to a stunning Elite Eight berth in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He needed little time to settle in with his new team, having erupted for 34 points against Bowling Green.

A similar outburst could prove deadly for Notre Dame, who has struggled to gain separation from any of its opponents this season. Luckily for the Irish, they have a player renowned for his ability to take opposing stars completely out of the game’s flow: graduate student guard Cormac Ryan. After Ryan’s impressive defensive effort against Lipscomb, Brey praised the dedication and unselfishness that he exhibits on that side of the ball.

“He’s unbelievable. Cormac Ryan has so given himself to just guard and take away a guy. It definitely affects his offense, and he doesn’t care,” Brey said. “I have the utmost respect for him sacrificing like that.”

The Irish will need a similar performance from Ryan on Friday. Their chances of beating the Bonnies hinge on his ability to shut down Banks in the same way that he has shut down the best guards that Notre Dame has faced all season long.

Hammond’s availability remains potential wild card

Having entered the season as Notre Dame’s presumed starting point guard, graduate student Marcus Hammond’s absence as he recovers from a sprained MCL has been a major story for the Irish. On Friday, Brey provided an update on Hammond’s timeline for returning to play.

“I think [Hammond] playing Tuesday is an extreme long shot,” Brey said. “Could we have him for St. Bonaventure? That would be a grand slam, but I don’t think we can count on that. I think it may be the next week.”

Hammond is an experienced player who averaged over 18 points per game for Niagara last season. His return, whenever it comes, will provide a big boost for the Irish offense.

Notre Dame will host Bowling Green on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on ACC Network. Friday’s 4 p.m. matchup against St. Bonaventure will be on ESPN+.

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Setting the ‘Golden Standard’: TaRiq Bracy makes his mark as a leader

As a high schooler in Milpitas, California, TaRiq Bracy strived to play on the biggest stage that college football had to offer. That’s why selecting a school became easy when Notre Dame came calling.

“The combination of a great education and a Power Five football team is hard to resist,” Bracy said. “Notre Dame was my biggest offer and I wanted to show the world my skills.”

He would not have to wait long for that opportunity, appearing in 11 games as a true freshman cornerback. Fast forward five years, and he is a key cog of one of the nation’s best defenses, and perhaps just as importantly, one of Notre Dame’s primary leaders.

“It’s my fifth year here, so I’ve been able to play a lot of football. I’ve learned from mistakes, from the good and bad,” Bracy said. “The older guys pride ourselves on our leadership, being able to string some of the young guys along and create a solid defense, especially in the secondary.”

Despite an impressive high school career that saw him lead Milpitas to a state championship during his senior season, Bracy was overlooked by many top programs because of his slight stature. Seeing him on the field today, it is clear that hard work has resulted in significant improvements in his strength and physicality. However, his growth in the game’s mental aspects has played just as big a role in his development.

“Being able to get in the film room a lot, watching the opponent, learning their tendencies and what they like to do,” Bracy said about how he has improved at Notre Dame. “Being able to build up my body from my freshman year, because [low] weight had been a problem, that’s what the narrative was. I really honed in on trying to get my body stronger and being able to take hits and deliver hits as well.”

As part of Notre Dame’s defensive back rotation for the past five seasons, Bracy is among college football’s most experienced players. Freshman cornerbacks rarely receive significant playing time, especially for national championship contenders. Even so, Bracy was an important contributor to the 2018 Irish team that finished the regular season 12-0 and reached the College Football Playoff.

Having proven his ability to compete at a high level, Bracy took a huge step forward as a sophomore. He finished the 2019 season with 34 tackles and seven pass breakups while showing a knack for making big plays in timely moments, forcing one fumble and recovering two more. In Notre Dame’s third game of the season, the Irish traveled to Athens to face Georgia. Despite suffering a narrow defeat, Bracy describes it as the most memorable game of his career. The atmosphere was electric, College GameDay was in town and the game was a high-stakes, hard-fought battle between top-10 teams. Bracy, having grown up in a small town, said he never imagined playing under such bright lights, and he rose to the occasion, breaking up two Georgia passes in his performance.

The next two seasons saw Bracy play key roles for Irish teams that posted a combined regular season record of 21-1 and appeared in another College Football Playoff in 2020. He started in a memorable double-overtime victory against Clemson during his junior year and posted a career-high eight tackles while defeating Florida State in the same season. As a senior, Bracy recorded his first career interception, a highlight-reel play against Virginia Tech.

After graduating in 2022 with a degree in psychology, Bracy opted to return for a fifth season at Notre Dame. His play this year has made that decision look like a good one. Against BYU, he memorably intercepted a pass on the game’s opening play, setting Notre Dame up to earn a huge victory in Las Vegas. Weeks later, in front of a sold-out Notre Dame Stadium, Bracy brought down Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for his first career sack, a play that helped guide Notre Dame to one of its biggest victories in recent memory. He attributes Irish performances like that to the high standard that every player holds themselves, and each other, to a mentality that he has helped cultivate as a defensive leader.

“The Golden Standard is what we pride ourselves on, and we don’t take anything less,” Bracy said. “Having that, along with great players and great coaches, it can come together very well.”

As his time at Notre Dame winds down, Bracy remains as locked in as ever, looking forward to the challenge of continuing to chase his goals at the next level.

“The NFL is my number one goal,” Bracy said. “I’ll be working towards that.”

The Irish defense will soon have to adjust to not having Bracy as a mainstay in the lineup for the first time in over half a decade. Until then, he will try to close out his illustrious Notre Dame career the only way he knows how: by leading the Irish to victory.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Strong start carries Irish to win against Southern Indiana

After opening the season with two tight victories, Notre Dame men’s basketball sought a less stressful finish on Wednesday night against Southern Indiana in the opening game of the Gotham Classic. The Irish got just that, building a big first-half lead and holding on to earn an 82-70 win in Purcell Pavilion.

With a veteran group made up of several high-level shooters and playmakers, the Irish offense has run seamlessly in the early stages of the season. Their struggles in narrow wins against Radford and Youngstown State came on the defensive end and getting stops was a point of emphasis for the team entering Wednesday’s game.

“[Defense] was obviously a focus for us yesterday in practice, being a little bit more vocal on the defensive side of the ball as well as dictating what they were doing,” Notre Dame graduate student forward Nate Laszewski said after the game. “Just being a little more aggressive.”

Those adjustments paid dividends for the Irish, who held the Screaming Eagles to just 25 points on 34% shooting in the first half. Notre Dame had previously allowed at least 36 points in every half this season. By steadily opening up a lead that eventually ballooned to 17 points at the end of the half, the Irish were able to create significant separation from their opponent for the first time this year. Graduate student guard Trey Wertz attributed that to the team’s talented offensive players buying in on defense.

“I think it was just getting stops,” Wertz said about Notre Dame’s first-half advantage. “I think when you can string together stops — with the way we’re scoring right now on offense — you can start to build leads like that.”

The offense was led early on by Laszewski, who made a three-pointer on the game’s opening possession on his way to scoring 11 points in the first half. For Laszewski, who won ACC Player of the Week after averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in Notre Dame’s first two games, these types of offensive outbursts have seemingly become the rule, rather than the exception. Laszewski has been a key player for several seasons, but after the departure of volume scorers like Blake Wesley and Paul Atkinson Jr. in the offseason, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey challenged him to take on an expanded workload in the offense. After recording his third consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Southern Indiana, it is clear that Laszewski is ready to step into that role.

“The stage has been cleared out for [Laszewski] to be the star, it took me time to explain that to him,” Brey said. “I love that he’s grabbed it.”

While Laszewski was critical in Notre Dame’s win, it was Wertz who led the Irish in scoring. He recorded a season-high 20 points in a continuation of his breakout season. After making two three-pointers in the first half, Wertz took over in the second period by keying in on the rim, consistently attacking Eagle defenders off the dribble and converting several tough finishes. For Wertz, who has primarily been a spot-up shooter for much of his Irish career, this season has highlighted the expansions of his offensive game.

Laszewski’s dominant offensive performance so far this season was easy to see coming. Wertz’s play, and even more so his leadership and game management, has come as more of a pleasant surprise, according to Brey. Wertz was not expected to be a starter for the Irish but seized his opportunity following graduate transfer guard Marcus Hammond’s knee injury. Hammond is expected to return to action in the coming weeks, but with Wertz having been perhaps the Irish’s best offensive player through three games, it is difficult to see him letting go of his spot in the starting five any time soon.

“I need a guy that’s running the team and who I can talk to, and we weren’t sure who that was going to be through June,” Brey said. “With Marcus Hammond out, [we said], ‘Trey, we need you, and we need 35 minutes [per game].’ He has just grabbed it. He’s calm and he sees the floor. I just love his demeanor.”

Wertz is clearly on the same page, as he attested after the game as to how Brey’s confidence in him has allowed him to make the leap from averaging four points per game last year up to nearly 18 in the current season.

“I’m someone with the ball in my hands a lot and the coaches trust me to make decisions,” Wertz said. “It feels good [to be scoring more], I know last year wasn’t the best scoring output that I’ve had. The guys trust me, coach trusts me. I worked hard all summer and the confidence is there now.”

Coming out of the halftime break trailing 42-25, the Eagles continued to fight, whittling the lead down to single digits several times. Most of the damage came in the paint, as the Irish struggled to contain Southern Indiana’s Trevor Lakes, who scored a team-high 21 points, and Jacob Polakovich, who added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Polakovich, who was not expected to play for another month following surgery to treat a Jones fracture, had several emphatic dunks in his first game back from injury.

A pair of Polakovich free throws trimmed the Irish lead to 51-43 with under twelve minutes to play, but the Eagles were ultimately unable to get any closer. The dagger came midway through the half when graduate student guard Cormac Ryan and Wertz made consecutive three-pointers to boost the Irish advantage from 10 to an insurmountable 16 in a matter of seconds. With the game in hand, Notre Dame emptied their bench in the final minutes to close out the 82-70 victory and improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2017.

Looking ahead, Notre Dame has a quick turnaround before returning to Purcell Pavilion to play Lipscomb on Friday at 7 p.m. The Irish will conclude the Gotham Classic next week, hosting Bowling Green on Tuesday and traveling to New York to face St. Bonaventure on Black Friday.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Ticket punched: Irish cross country secures NCAA Championship berth

Notre Dame cross country entered Friday morning’s Great Lakes Regional in Terra Haute, Indiana, needing a top-two finish to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Sure enough, the Irish got the job done. The Notre Dame women won the regional while the men took second, punching their tickets to the national meet next weekend. The win marks the second straight Great Lakes title for the women, and the men qualified for their sixth consecutive NCAA Championship with their finish.

With just one week between the regional and national meets, it was a balancing act for Notre Dame to earn a top-two position while not hurting its prospects at the national meet by overexerting itself.

“We felt really confident in our ability to qualify, it was really more a question of, how much effort do we need to put forth in order to qualify, because it’s still a preliminary meet,” said Irish head coach Matt Sparks. “So the concept is, how controlled and how relaxed can we run and still qualify.”

The No. 5 women’s team came into the meet as heavy favorites after a runner-up performance at the ACC Championship. The Irish used a strong team effort to earn a decisive victory, finishing with a score of 34 points. Runner-up Ohio State was well behind with 111. Notre Dame junior Olivia Markezich led wire-to-wire on her way to winning the individual title. Several more Irish runners followed in quick succession.

Sophomore Siona Chisholm and graduate student Maddy Denner finished in fourth and sixth. Senior Katie Thronson and sophomore Erin Strzelecki both finished in the top twelve, completing the scoring for Notre Dame. Chisholm and Thronson, both transfers in their first season with the Irish, continued to play critical roles for the team.

“You never know how [transfers] are going to adapt to the team culture and chemistry and the training,” Sparks said. “It’s been a seamless transition for both of them. They’ve brought great energy to the team as well.”

Denner, a cross-country All-American last year along with Markezich, is finally healthy after spending most of the season working her way back from injury. She seems to have found her form just in time for the national meet. Sparks believes that she will be vital to the team’s success there.

“The nice piece is that her aches and pains are minimized, so [we’ve been] able to work on her fitness over the last three weeks. That’s where you’ve been able to see her close the gap on where Olivia is,” Sparks said. “We would hope that when we get to Stillwater, they’re able to find each other again at the national meet and give us a really strong one-two punch.”

On the men’s side, the No. 13 Irish faced a difficult test in the form of No. 8 Wisconsin. The challenge was even steeper because graduate student Kevin Berry, one of Notre Dame’s top runners all season, was held out from the race after feeling run down following the conference meet. The Irish could not take the regional title, finishing as a close runner-up to the Badgers. Despite this, they achieved their goal of qualifying for nationals and will go into the meet with the confidence of a team at full strength, as Berry is expected to return.

After winning the individual ACC Championship two weeks prior, sophomore Carter Solomon was out in front for Notre Dame again and continued his impressive season with a fifth-place finish. Freshman Izaiah Steury was the next finisher in sixth. Just as at the ACC meet, Steury was the highest-placing freshman in the race. Sparks spoke about the maturity that has allowed him to compete at such a high level.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence for a freshman in college,” Sparks said. “It will traditionally take two or three years to make the adjustment [from 5k races in high school to 10k races in college]. In his case, it’s taken two or three months.”

Sparks noted that Steury will be aiming to be the top freshman at the NCAA meet. Both he and Solomon will look to earn All-American status by finishing in the top forty places. While the low scores of Solomon and Steury gave the Irish an advantage on Friday, they needed strong efforts from their other scorers to beat out a tight field for the runner-up finish. They got just that. The trio of junior Jake Renfree, senior Matthew Carmody and sophomore Josh Methner all finished in the top-twenty. Renfree had his strongest race of the season. His current form raises Notre Dame’s ceiling for the national meet.

“The guy that really stepped up, that we’ve been waiting for all year to perform, was Jake Renfree,” Sparks said. “He’d had a great couple of weeks of practice since the conference meet, so we gave him a chance at the regional. Jake is someone that’s previously been an All-American for us and I think his confidence and his fitness are kind of gelling all at the right time. He’s somebody that we’d expect to make a big impact [at the NCAA Championships] as well.”

Heading into the national meet, Sparks said the Irish women had the goal of finishing in the top-four. The men, meanwhile, will look for a top-eight position. With just one week remaining in the season, the Irish have done all they can in terms of physical training. They will focus on rest and recovery in the final days leading into the NCAA meet.

“The X’s and O’s of running are done,” Sparks said. “Sleep well, eat well, rest well; that’s kind of kind of the motto for the next week.”

Notre Dame will compete in the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The meet beings at 10 a.m. and is available to watch on ESPNU. The Irish will look to improve on last year’s meet, where the women finished fifth and the men ninth.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Predicting the College Football Playoff committee’s toughest decisions

With just three weeks remaining in college football’s regular season, a chaotic race for the College Football Playoff has become clearer, and the number of teams with hopes of reaching the final four has dwindled. After eight seasons with the current playoff system in place, there is an unofficial hierarchy of qualifications that shape the Committee’s decisions. In order of teams in the group being most likely to make the playoff to least likely, they are:

  1. Undefeated Power Five conference champions/undefeated Notre Dame: 11/11 teams with this resume have been selected
  2. One-loss Power Five conference champions: 16/19
  3. One-loss Power Five teams with no conference championship: 3/7
  4. Undefeated Group of Five conference champions: 1/7

No team that did not fall into one of these groups has ever made the playoff, and based on these criteria, there are eleven teams still fighting for a national championship this season. Given the unlikeliness of the committee to ever leave out the SEC Champion, especially one with wins over both Alabama and Georgia, two-loss LSU makes the number of contenders twelve.

While the playoff was established with hopes of giving every deserving team a shot at a national title (something that the BCS system often failed to do), annual debates over the final playoff spot remain inevitable. This year, in particular, there are very few teams that have the ability to establish themselves as playoff “locks” over the final weeks of the season. It appears increasingly likely that the committee will have to choose between several similar candidates rather than there being a clear-cut top four that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

With that being said, here are some of the most challenging decisions that the committee could face, with predictions on which team would likely be selected in each scenario based on playoff rankings from this season as well as past selections.

Tennessee (11-1) vs Oregon (12-1, PAC-12 Champion)

It is certainly plausible that Tennessee and Oregon could both reach the playoff. However, in the reasonably likely scenario that No. 1 Georgia, the Big Ten champion, and No. 4 TCU all remain undefeated, both teams would have legitimate claims to just one available spot. The committee indicated that Tennessee holds the edge by ranking the Volunteers at No. 5, one spot ahead of Oregon. However, winning a conference championship has historically been a major factor for selection, and only the Ducks have that opportunity. In 2014, TCU was ranked No. 3 entering the season’s final weekend. But the Big 12 had no championship game at the time. The Horned Frogs were passed over for Ohio State, who was ranked No. 5 but won the Big Ten Championship. We could see a similar outcome this year.

While Tennessee has impressive wins over Alabama and LSU, Oregon has already beat UCLA and can earn quality wins against Utah and either USC or UCLA in the PAC-12 title game down the stretch. Each team’s loss came against Georgia. While Tennessee looked more impressive in defeat, that should not be a significant differentiator ,as the Bulldogs beat both teams soundly.

Ultimately, the decision may come down to Tennessee finishing its season against unranked Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt while Oregon faces multiple highly-ranked teams. This would go against the committee’s historical preference for the SEC. But the resume of an Oregon team riding a twelve-game winning streak and winning a conference title should be just strong enough to leapfrog them past Tennessee and into the playoff.

Verdict: Oregon

UCLA (12-1, PAC-12 Champion) vs Clemson (12-1, ACC Champion)

Three one-loss teams remain in the hunt to win the PAC-12 Championship. No. 6 Oregon and No. 8 USC have currently ranked ahead of No. 10 Clemson. Given the Tigers’ unimpressive schedule and dismal performance against Notre Dame, if the Ducks or Trojans were to finish the season with just one loss, it would be nearly impossible for Clemson to pass them. Where the debate gets interesting, though, is in pitting Clemson against No. 12 UCLA. The Bruins’ weak non-conference slate and unremarkable eye test dragged it far below its conference counterparts in this week’s rankings.

Regardless, UCLA would have a strong case to surpass Clemson by winning its final four games. Two weeks from now, UCLA will face USC. Winning that game alone might be enough to push them ahead of the Tigers. Beating an elite Oregon team in the PAC-12 Championship would be icing on the cake. Coupled with impressive wins against Washington and Utah earlier in the season, UCLA would have several quality wins. Clemson, even by beating North Carolina in the ACC Championship, simply cannot compare.

Verdict: UCLA

LSU (11-2, SEC Champion) vs Tennessee (11-1)

This is likely a scenario that the committee looks at with dread due to the vitriol they would receive from the fanbase of whichever team was not selected. No team with two losses has ever reached the playoff. But to leave out an SEC Champion would be just as shocking. Conversely, it is hard to look past Tennessee traveling to Death Valley and obliterating LSU by a score of 40-13. And the Volunteers having just one loss could ultimately be a deciding factor.

A similar situation arose during the 2016 season when Penn State defeated Ohio State during the regular season to earn a berth in the Big Ten Championship. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title to finish 11-2, but were snubbed from the playoff. Instead, 11-1 Ohio State, who Penn State had beaten head-to-head, made it in. This year, the Volunteers hold an even greater advantage than Ohio State did that year. Tennessee beat LSU while the Buckeyes lost to Penn State and still reached the playoff.

If the season were to play out in this fashion, there is a strong chance that both teams would be in the top-four. With only one spot to fight for, precedent gives Tennessee, with the head-to-head advantage and one fewer defeat, the edge.

Verdict: Tennessee

TCU (12-1, Big 12 Champion) vs USC (12-1, PAC-12 Champion)

For No. 4 TCU, the path to the playoff is simple: finish the season undefeated, and they’re in. A loss would make it difficult for the Horned Frogs to make the top four — but not impossible. A 12-1 TCU team would likely fall behind Oregon if the Ducks were to win the PAC-12 Championship. But the Frogs would have a viable case against a 12-1 USC. It is difficult to see why the committee thinks so highly of No. 8 USC. The Trojans have struggled defensively and are 0-1 against ranked opponents this season.

However, they will certainly have a chance to prove themselves in the coming weeks. They are staring down a three-week gauntlet against UCLA, Notre Dame and, if they reach the PAC-12 Championship, likely Oregon. Comparatively, TCU has consistently played tight games in the unspectacular Big 12. While the Frogs hold a clear edge to this point, USC has a chance to pick up three signature wins. Doing so should earn them the right to play for a national title. TCU controls its own destiny. But one slip-up will likely have them on the outside looking in.

Verdict: USC

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Crow: Notre Dame refuses to waver to turn season around

After Notre Dame’s massive upset victory over No. 4 Clemson, after Irish fans stormed the field and after he was met with raucous applause in the tunnels of Notre Dame Stadium, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman was asked a question that initially stumped him.

Why — after a season full of trials and tribulations, stunning losses and great wins — had Notre Dame just dominated one of the best teams in the country?

“You know what? I wish I could explain exactly how this season has gone. You can’t,” Freeman said. “We didn’t foresee this game going that way, this season going this way.”

Freeman, like many fans, probably did not predict an 0-2 start that included a defeat at the hands of Marshall, only the second Irish home loss since 2018. Or that the third would come five weeks later against Stanford, a team that this week lost 52-14 to Washington State. Three wins against top-25 opponents, including a convincing victory against a playoff-caliber team in Clemson, is more in line with what was expected for Notre Dame.

In hindsight, though, a season like the one that the Irish are having probably should have been expected all along. A first-year head coach, new quarterback and untested skill position players are not typically ingredients found in the recipe for national title contenders. Alabama went 7-6 in their first season under Nick Saban while Georgia finished 8-5 in Kirby Smart’s first year at the helm. Clemson, who has lost just 10 games in the last seven years combined, lost five in Dabo Swinney’s first full season.

Notre Dame was awash in good vibes and positive energy to start the season following an 11-2 finish in 2021, and the hiring of Freeman. That energy remained after a competitive loss against No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, but disappeared in a flash following the Marshall game, a loss that saw sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner knocked out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.

At that point, it would have been difficult to blame the team for shifting its focus to the future while grinding its way through a forgettable season just as Alabama, Georgia and Clemson each did in their first year under a new coach. Instead, Freeman made certain that the team would remain as locked-in as ever.

“You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing,” Freeman said. “So I make sure, when I walk out of my office, that I’m the most confident leader that I can be. They need that. They will go as their leader goes, and I have to do that.”

This approach of steadiness and staying the course was frustrating for Irish fans in the season’s early stages, as there was no moment when the switch flipped and Notre Dame began playing at the level that they were expected to. The 0-2 start was followed by a mostly uninspiring win against Cal in junior quarterback Drew Pyne’s first career start. Notre Dame played some of its best football over the next few weeks, crushing North Carolina on the road (which now looks very impressive) and beating BYU in Las Vegas (which now looks less impressive). The next weekend, though, it was back to square one, as the Irish were shut out in the first half on the way to a 16-14 home loss against a Stanford team that had not beaten an FBS opponent.

From that point on, Notre Dame has only improved, soundly beating UNLV before hammering No. 16 Syracuse on the road and now taking down the Tigers. Sophomore running back Logan Diggs, who ran for 114 yards against Clemson, said after the game that Freeman’s message of consistency made all the difference from where the Irish began the season to now.

“He’s that type of coach that’s going to come into the meeting and tell you what you need to do to get better,” Diggs said. “He’s going to keep on being the same Coach Freeman every single day of the week.”

That difference is striking — the result of steady improvement over the course of a long season. It started on the defensive end, where a unit that struggled with ceding big plays early in the year has now produced five straight excellent performances, with assistance from the special teams squad’s nation-leading six blocked punts. Offensively, Notre Dame rushed for a combined 206 yards in its two season-opening losses. The Irish have since surpassed that total in five of their last six games behind standout play from Diggs and sophomore Audric Estime, as well as a constantly-improving offensive line that Diggs referred to as “one of the best in the country” after they overwhelmed Clemson’s elite front seven.

Notre Dame’s passing attack remains an area for improvement, though Pyne has played well in several games after unexpectedly being thrust into action. Against Clemson, he was not asked to do much as the Irish leaned heavily on an effective run game. However, Pyne consistently made key plays at opportune moments through the air and on the ground in a performance reminiscent of former Irish star Ian Book, who was in attendance on Saturday. Freeman described Pyne as a “winner,” a word often used to describe Book, who won more games than any other quarterback in Notre Dame history.

All this being said, it feels like Notre Dame has figured out how to win games, and it starts up front on both sides of the ball. In Freeman’s eyes, though, keeping a consistent mindset is easier when the team is struggling and the need to improve is obvious. The Irish are now on a winning streak and have praise coming at them from every direction, and Freeman’s leadership is more important than ever.

“When you lose, it’s easy to look at yourself and say, ‘How can I get better, and what do I have to do as an individual and how can we tune out the outside noise and be intentional in our work?’” Freeman said. “The challenge will be when we have success to continue to have that mindset of improvement and selflessness and continuing to just stay together.”

The Irish, under Freeman, never wavered or lost confidence during the tough times, and there is no reason to believe that they will amid their current run of success. Notre Dame just earned the Freeman Era’s first signature win. Behind an even-keeled mentality and commitment to the process, regardless of on-field results, it is easy to imagine many more to come.

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

Contact Matthew at mcrow@nd.edu.

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5 key moments in Notre Dame’s Tiger thrashing

Two years ago, Notre Dame shocked the world by defeating Clemson in South Bend, causing Irish fans to storm the field in celebration. On Saturday, they had that chance again and took it, as the Irish knocked off No. 4 Clemson 35-14 in decisive fashion behind a dominant run game and a strong defensive performance. Here are five of the most important moments that led to an unpredictable Irish team’s biggest win of the season. 

Botelho blocks punt, Kollie takes it to the house

Notre Dame entered the game having blocked five punts on the year, tied for first in the nation. It did not take the Irish long to block their sixth. Notre Dame received the opening kickoff, and the Irish offense picked up one first down before punting in a short first drive. On offense for the first time, Clemson looked to get the ball to the edge with a series of screens and toss plays, but a pair of holding penalties forced the Tigers into a three-and-out.

With Clemson set to punt from their own 21-yard line, Notre Dame junior linebacker Jordan Botelho ran untouched through two rows of Tiger punt protection and blocked the attempt straight into the air. It fell into the waiting hands of Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie, who raced into the endzone, aided by a huge block from Botelho at the goal line. The play set a Notre Dame record for most blocked punts in a single season and gave the Irish a 7-0 advantage early in the first quarter as Notre Dame’s punt block unit continues to be a difference maker for the team.

Estime takes over to close out the first half

With Notre Dame’s first touchdown having come from special teams, the Irish offense did not draw blood for the majority of the first half. After a Clemson punt put Notre Dame at their own 22-yard line midway through the second quarter, the Irish leaned on sophomore running back Audric Estime to double their lead. Estime entered the game coming off a 123-yard, two-touchdown performance against Syracuse but carried the ball just four times in Notre Dame’s first several possessions.

On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback Drew Pyne handed it off to Estime, who picked up 13 yards. After three rushes from junior running back Chris Tyree that picked up 17 yards, Estime provided a spark again. On a crucial third down, Estime broke several tackles to pick up 11 yards. He followed that up with three straight carries that gained another 11 yards. With the Clemson defense on their heels, Pyne used a scramble, a completion to junior tight end Michael Mayer and a designed quarterback keeper to put the Irish in the endzone again in the final seconds of the half. Estime’s 35 rushing yards on the drive got the Irish offense rolling and helped Notre Dame take a two-possession lead into halftime.

Irish defense dominant to start second half

Despite Notre Dame’s strong first half, Clemson entered the third quarter with a chance to cut the Irish lead to just seven in their opening possession. The Notre Dame defense, though, had no intention of letting that happen. After a Notre Dame facemask on the first play of the half gave Clemson a first down on their own 44-yard line, an incompletion and short gain from running back Will Shipley left the Tigers with a key third and five. With Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei dropping back to pass, Notre Dame senior linebacker J.D. Bertrand picked up his second sack of the season to force a Clemson punt.

Following the punt, the Irish picked up three first downs, but eventually punted around midfield, pinning Clemson on their own goal line. The Tigers gained over 40 yards on the drive, but with Uiagalelei looking to pass on third down, Notre Dame freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison swooped in to break up the pass and force another Clemson punt. The Irish offense’s quiet start to the half gave Clemson an opportunity to get back in the game but timely defensive plays from the veteran Bertrand and freshman Morrison held off the Tigers’ attack.

Morrison interceptions provide insurance for the Irish

After Notre Dame was forced to punt from Clemson territory again late in the third quarter, the Tigers started another possession in the shadow of their end zone. After a first down handoff, the first pass of the game from backup quarterback Cade Klubnik was intercepted by Morrison as he continued to terrorize the Clemson offense (regardless of who was throwing the passes). The interception was the first of Morrison’s career and gave the Irish the ball in the red zone with all the momentum on their side. Just as they had done all game, Notre Dame kept the ball on the ground as they looked to take a three-possession lead. Carries from Estime and Pyne gave the Irish first and goal from the 2-yard line, and Estime punched it in for his ninth touchdown of the season to make the score 21-0 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Desperately needing a touchdown to stay in the game, Clemson seemed likely to get one as they quickly drove the length of the field with Uiagalelei back in the game. Two pass interference calls and one holding penalty, all on the Irish, gave Clemson a total of 40 yards. Inside the red zone, Clemson receiver Joseph Ngata was streaking to the endzone, but Uiagalelei’s underthrown pass was intercepted by Morrison, who was in the midst of the best game of his young career. Following his blocks, Morrison returned the interception 96 yards for a touchdown, giving the Irish an insurmountable 28-0 lead and capping off his incredible performance on the big stage.

Mayer breaks record as Irish win

Notre Dame has long been known for its elite tight ends, with the likes of Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph and Cole Kmet donning Irish jerseys in the last few years alone. After Saturday’s game, though, Irish junior Michael Mayer stands alone as the greatest tight end in Notre Dame history. With the game well in hand, Pyne connected with Mayer for a 17-yard touchdown that made the score 35-7 and gave Mayer his 16th career touchdown, breaking Notre Dame’s tight end record that was previously held by Eifert. Mayer now holds the triple crown of career records, boasting more touchdowns, yards and receptions than any tight end in Notre Dame history. He will soon be headed to the NFL Draft, but there is now no disputing Michael Mayer as the best in the position to ever don the blue and gold.

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Three takeaways from Irish men’s basketball opening exhibition game

Notre Dame men’s basketball made their final regular season preparations on Wednesday night in an exhibition matchup against NAIA opponent Xavier University of Louisiana. The game’s outcome remained in question for longer than expected, but the Irish pulled away late to earn a 67-52 win. With the preseason now in the rearview mirror, here are three takeaways from the victory as the Irish turn their attention to next Thursday’s season opener against Radford.

Goodwin, Laszewski ready to lead the way

Just as was so often the case last season, graduate students Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin were at the forefront of Notre Dame’s offensive attack. Laszewski did most of his work early, scoring 9 of Notre Dame’s first 18 points on his way to 12 in the game. He then handed the reigns to Goodwin, who recorded a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, six of them offensive.

Laszewski seemed focused on attacking the rim, using his reputation as a sharpshooter to attract overaggressive closeouts that allowed him to consistently get past his defender. In the paint, he showed improved patience, frequently using shot fakes to get Xavier defenders off balance and draw fouls, which led to an 8-9 performance from the free throw line. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey discussed Laszewski’s expanded offensive arsenal after the game.

“I thought Nate kind of got us started by drawing fouls and driving,” Brey said. “He’s become a little better off the dribble and making plays, passing and finding people when [Xavier was] doubling and he made his free throws.”

Goodwin spent the game hunting mismatches that allowed him to back down smaller defenders and either finish at the rim or shoot his patented turnaround jumper. As with Laszewski, good things happen for the Irish when he plays aggressively, and Goodwin made all eight of his free throw attempts. Notre Dame struggled to shoot from distance (the Irish finished 7-26 from three-point range) but having two of their best shooters looking to get to the rim and draw fouls gives them a reliable safety valve when their shots are not falling.

Rebounding effort leaves room for improvement

While the Irish outplayed Xavier in most facets, struggles on the defensive glass allowed the Gold Rush to hang around for most of the game. In total, Xavier outrebounded Notre Dame 46-33 and had a 22-11 advantage in terms of offensive rebounding. Entering the season, rebounding was widely expected to be a point of weakness for the Irish, who have only two big men likely to play on a consistent basis, but it was a surprise to see a decisive loss in the rebounding battle against an opponent with considerably less size at their disposal.

After the game, Brey noted that the Irish “have to [rebound] as a group,” but praised several players’ individual performances on the boards, including graduate student guard Marcus Hammond and Goodwin. Hammond finished with seven rebounds, which Brey called “encouraging” but not surprising, given that he has rebounded well during practice. The team’s standout performance on the glass, though, came from Goodwin. He was notably aggressive on the boards defensively and even more so on offense, where his effort plays created several second-chance point opportunities. Goodwin spoke about the emphasis that he put on rebounding in preparation for the season.

“I realize that [rebounding] has to be a big priority for me this year. We’re playing a little smaller, so I have to get in there and grab some boards,” Goodwin said. “There’s definitely a mindset about it. You just have to be aggressive. Just like scoring, you’ve got to be aggressive going to the boards, hitting guys, whatever it is to go and get that ball.”

The Irish will frequently be undersized during ACC play and will rely on the entire team to attack the glass with the same effort that Goodwin gave on Wednesday.

Newcomers fill key roles in tight rotation

Last year, Notre Dame rarely went beyond seven-deep with its rotation. If the exhibition was any indication, this season will be similar, as only seven Irish players saw the floor for significant minutes. Out went Prentiss Hubb, Paul Atkinson Jr. and Blake Wesley and in came Hammond (a Niagara transfer), freshmen JJ Starling and Ven-Allen Lubin to replace them.

Marcus Hammond facilitates offense

In their first appearance for the Irish, the trio showed glimpses of what they will bring to the table for Notre Dame. Hammond, who scored over 18 points per game last season, took on point guard responsibilities and initiated the Irish offense nearly every possession when on the floor. After scoring nine points on three three-pointers and adding two assists, Hammond spoke about how a productive preseason of practices paid dividends in game situations.

“I was very comfortable,” Hammond said. “In practice, we get a lot of reps in, five on five. We get a lot of chances to play with each other. I’m real comfortable just moving the ball, knocking down the open shot when I get it and competing on the defensive end.”

JJ looks inconsistent in anticipated debut

Starling delivered an up-and-down effort in an anticipated effort, given his status as a consensus five-star recruit. While he did not shoot particularly well, finishing just 1-7 and 0-5 from three, Starling’s performance in other areas pleased Brey.

“JJ made some good decisions. When he was double teamed, I thought he was really good,” Brey said. “He had open looks, I thought he took really good shots. He does pass it and find people, and he’s able to get in [the paint] with strength like nobody else we have.”

The primary way in which Brey looks for Starling, as well as any young player, to grow, is by not letting shooting struggles prevent him from impacting the game in its less glamorous aspects.

“When you’re not making shots, and maybe your offense isn’t as smooth, there’s the great maturity and growth [process] of, ‘can I go back and defend and rebound and work my way into it,’” Brey said. He noted that this is especially important for a player with as much athleticism and defensive potential as Starling has.

Lubin earns three blocks in gritty effort

A face mask hampered Lubin after he suffered a nose injury during practice earlier in the week, but that did not stop him from tallying four points and three blocks while putting his athleticism on constant display. In the first half, he used impressive focus to score in the paint while being fouled. Later, he maneuvered past his defender off the catch and converted at the rim, showing a unique combination of agility and strength for a 6’8” player. Defensively, Lubin’s length and defensive instincts allowed him to disrupt several shots at the basket without fouling. Brey spoke highly of Lubin’s defense. He said that the coaching staff has to “keep making him feel comfortable” as he gets accustomed to Notre Dame’s offensive scheme and recovers from injury.

Notre Dame’s new players make up nearly half of the seven that are likely to soak up most of the team’s minutes, and they will have many opportunities to improve over the course of the season and prepare for big games in January, February and (the Irish hope) March. At this early stage in the season, all three appear ready to step into key roles and make an immediate impact.

“It’s a learning process,” Goodwin said about the development of Notre Dame’s young players. “They’re going to have their ups and downs, but I think they all contributed today and had bright spots. So that’s definitely something to build off of.”