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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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Irish survive nail-biter vs. Lipscomb on Goodwin’s late three

It was the nail-biter that no one expected. In their first-ever meeting, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team beat Lipscomb, 66-65, Friday Night in Purcell Pavilion. The Irish came into the meeting 3-0 and averaging 83 points a game in wins against Radford, Youngstown State, and Southern Indiana. Lipscomb came into the meeting 2-1 after falling to South Dakota in their season opener.

Despite being the underdog, the Bisons started off well against Notre Dame in the first half, scoring the first five points of the game and staying ahead of the Irish for the first eight minutes of the game. Graduate student guard Cormac Ryan made a three-pointer to tie the game. Although the Bisons scored a quick layup in response, they didn’t regain the lead again until late in the game.

Notre Dame prevented Lipscomb from scoring for nearly six minutes near the end of the first half. Graduate student guard Dane Goodwin was dominant in the first half, scoring 15 points, and accounting for more than half of the team’s overall points at the time. 

Afterward, head coach Mike Brey discussed how it was a priority for the team to limit the number of threes, even if it meant giving up shots in the paint.

“[Lipscomb] is a really gifted offensive team. I told our guys at halftime that they average 80 [points a game] and we have them at 23. They still never really got flowing because they couldn’t make double-digit threes.”

Very few fouls were committed by either team. The first free throws of the game not occurring until graduate student forward Nate Laszewski went three for three five minutes into the second half. He continued Notre Dame’s trend of excellence from the line. So far this season, Notre Dame has made over 85% of its free throws, the second-highest percentage in the country.

Despite the fact that it never felt like Notre Dame lost control of the flow of the game, Lipscomb came back to take the lead with just over two minutes to go by shooting 76% from the floor in the second half. After each team scored once in the late stages, Goodwin shot a game-winning three-pointer with 14.5 seconds to go to give Notre Dame the lead — and the win.

Brey was very complimentary of his grad students and how they handled themselves throughout the game. Brey knew Goodwin’s game-winner was going in as soon as he saw it go up with the night he was having. He was also particularly impressed with the defensive skills and leadership shown by Ryan.

“Ryan has just so given himself to just guard and take away a guy… and it definitely affects his offense and he doesn’t care. As a fifth-year senior, I would think he would care more, but he doesn’t. And in the huddles, when [it wasn’t going our way], he challenged Ven[-Allen Lubin] because [he] had a long stretch there looking for his shot… and set the tone coming out of the timeout. I mean, amazing leadership, and those guys, the big three have ownership of this thing.”

At the end of the game, Trae Benham and Jacob Ognacevic led Lipscomb with 19 points each. Ahsan Asadullah also contributed 10. Goodwin led the Irish with 24 points. Laszewski had 16 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. Freshman guard J.J. Starling also scored 11 points.

Notre Dame will look to stay undefeated when they return to Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday. That night, they will take on 2-2 Bowling Green for the second game of the 2022 Gotham Classic.

Contact Annika Herko at aherko@nd.edu.

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Irish best Penguins behind stellar offensive performance

After the picturesque first snowfall of the season, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team hosted the aptly named Youngstown State Penguins for a Sunday afternoon contest. While many have pointed to the Irish as one of the most experienced teams in the country due to their six graduate students (four of which played today), Youngstown State had three graduate students of their own play big minutes.

The Penguins returned three starters from a team that went 19-15 last year. The Penguins were fifth in the Horizon League preseason poll, with one first place vote. They came into Purcell Pavilion with a 2-0 record. The Irish played their season-opener versus Radford on Thursday, ultimately prevailing 79-76.

Going into the season, the Irish were sixth in the ACC preseason poll. The Irish knew going into today’s contest that the Penguins could score, as they tallied over 90 points in each of their first two contests. The Penguins shot 50.8% from the floor today, but the Irish bested them with a 60% mark. The Irish had an extremely balanced attack, with five players finishing in double figures.

Graduate student guard Dane Goodwin paced the Irish, scoring 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Although he had a slow start, the Ohio product was able to get in the lane and hit from mid-range. Penguins head coach Jerrod Calhoun said that the Irish were “very balanced” and that “they played with a sense of urgency.”

Freshman guard JJ Starling contributed 17 points in an extremely encouraging performance. Compared to the first game, where Starling said he was “a little in his head,” the freshman phenom looked much more confident. He was also the go-to-guy down the stretch for an Irish team looking for a freshman leader, similar to the role Blake Wesley played a season ago.

After Youngstown State cut the lead to three points with 2:20 left to play, Starling hit a corner three to extend the lead to 6. After another Penguins basket, Starling came back down the court and canned another three to give the Irish a 7 point lead with under 80 seconds to play. Head coach Mike Brey loved his star freshman’s play, praising his basketball IQ and his sharpness on the court.

Starling looks to be fitting in well in the Irish’s experienced rotation. His graduate student teammates can also serve as a calming presence during his first games. Another freshman, Ven-Allen Lubin, contributed nine points as well. The athletic forward from Florida also sent back two shots in over 23 minutes on the court. Lubin also showed off his range, hitting a three pointer on the wing. The play of Starling and Lubin on Sunday prompted Brey to call them “as poised as our four old guys.”

Graduate student Trey Wertz added 15 points, playing with more confidence than Irish fans have ever seen from the guard. Wertz had 7 points in a two minute stretch in the first half. Coach Brey said he was “thrilled for Trey,” who has come into his own in a starting role after being a “loyal seventh man” for the last two seasons.

“He’s like Prentiss (Hubb),” Brey said. He remarked that Wertz’ calmness with the ball in his hands resembled Hubb, last year’s main ball handler.

The Penguins’ offense largely centered around forward Adrian Nelson and guard Dwayne Cohill. Nelson, a graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky, had a career high 27 points while yanking down 10 rebounds. After only scoring two points in the first half, Cohill, a Horizon League Preseason First-Team All Conference selection, came through with a 16-point performance in the second. The Penguins played a scrappy game, cutting the Irish lead to three points or less four times throughout the game. They stayed in the game throughout. But the Irish never let them put together a run to take the lead.

The depth of the Penguins also presented a challenge. The Penguins played 10 players, where the Irish only played seven. If the Irish were fatigued, though, it didn’t show much late in the game.

Nevertheless, the Irish are eagerly awaiting the return of graduate student Marcus Hammond. Hammond, who scored 18 points per game with Niagara last year, will help to alleviate the pressure and workload currently on the starters’ shoulders. Brey noted that he feels good about where Hammond is at regarding his recovery. He also said that he expects him to return for their game on Tuesday, Nov. 22 against Bowling Green.

The Irish look to continue their winning start with two games in Purcell Pavilion this week. They play their first game of the Gotham Classic against Southern Indiana on Wednesday before welcoming Lipscomb on Friday.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.