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.

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‘Something to build off of’: Irish eye March Madness return

Notre Dame Men’s Basketball begins their regular season this Thursday against Radford. The Irish will play two out-of-conference games and four Gotham classic games before beginning the 2022 ACC/Big 10 Challenge on November 30th.

Notre Dame has one preseason game under their belt as they head into the regular season. The Irish played Xavier Louisiana in an exhibition game last Wednesday, winning 67-52. It’s always good to win, but Notre Dame’s performance was lacking last week considering Xavier LA is an NAIA team. The Irish had 12 turnovers and shot less than 27% from three. Fifth year guard Dane Goodwin had a solid performance with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow fifth year forward Nate Laszewski also had a strong game with 12 points. Highly recruited freshman guard J.J. Starling added only two points.

Based on this performance, it seems the Irish will rely heavily on its superseniors this year. The team consists of six graduate students, four of whom started in the game against Xavier LA. The team relied almost entirely on its upperclassmen for scoring last week: grad students scored 59 of Notre Dame’s 67 points. Notre Dame’s graduate students, especially Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski, will have to consistently post high scoring performances for Notre Dame this year in order for the Irish to win games.

J.J. Starling was unexpectedly quiet in his first college game, scoring only two points in almost 32 minutes of play. He finished 1-7 from the field and 0-5 from three. However, his stat lines last week are not indicative of Starling’s skill or potential. At 6’4” and 200 lbs, Starling is a well-sized guard and physically ready to break into the college game. With his speed and size, Starling is a difficult opponent to guard. He should have no problem scoring and helping run the offense this season. It appears that Starling simply had a bad shooting night and is expected to improve as the season picks up. Glenn and Stacey Murphy Head Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Brey said of Starling’s performance:

“J.J. had one of those ‘first time in a uniform’ nights, but he got some great looks…and we’re gonna keep shooting ‘em.”

Starling was the eighteenth-ranked player in his high school class in the ESPN 100 rankings. This makes him Notre Dame’s highest-ranked recruit and only five-star ever. He will fill the shoes of last year’s “one-and-done” star Blake Wesley and hopefully lead the team to another NCAA tournament. The fact that Starling played 32 minutes while only scoring two points indicates Brey’s confidence in Starling’s abilities.

Two other freshmen, Ven-Allen Lubin and Dom Campbell, join the team along with Starling. Lubin is a four-star recruit and the seventy-fifth ranked player in the country in his high school class by ESPN. Campbell is a four-star recruit as well. Both players are forwards. Lubin in particular should contribute to the team this year, joining Laszewski in the frontcourt as a true post player. Coach Brey was happy with both players’ performances against Xavier LA and is optimistic about their abilities:

“Nate and Ven are our main big guys and I think they kind of got us started. Ven gave us 15 solid minutes…he can block a shot, hes long”

Standing at 6’8” and 225 lbs, Lubin has an advantage over most freshman forwards in the sense that he is physically ready to compete with older players. He will give the Irish additional size that they have been lacking in recent years.

Even with the addition of Lubin, Notre Dame’s guards will still have to rebound well in order for the team to succeed defensively. Graduate student Dane Goodwin spoke about actively focusing on rebounding in his play in a post-game interview last week:

 “I realize that’s gotta be a big priority for me this year, we’re playing a little smaller so I gotta get in there and grab some boards to help the team however I can.”

Despite their slow performance against Xavier LA, the Irish are confident about the upcoming season and the team. Goodwin is feeling optimistic about Notre Dame’s potential:

“I think we’re in a good spot, we have a week until our first official game…were gonna watch some film and kind of address it and move forward. There’s definitely something to build off of.”

The ACC Preseason Poll ranked Notre Dame sixth in the ACC. They are currently ranked one spot ahead of defending ACC champion Virginia Tech. North Carolina is currently ranked first in the ACC. They are expected to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning the ACC tournament. Notre Dame could automatically qualify in the unlikely scenario that they win the ACC tournament. However, it is more likely that they earn an at-large bid.

The Irish qualified for the NCAA tournament as an eleven seed last season for the first time in four years. They performed fairly well considering their rank, defeating sixth-ranked Alabama in the first round and losing to third-ranked Texas by only six points in the second round. As of November 8th, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicted that the Irish will earn an eleven seed again this season. Notre Dame is currently expected to be one of the “last four byes,” meaning that the Irish will be one of the last four teams to qualify for the tournament without having to play a play-in game. Based on this prediction and their performance last year, Notre Dame has a decent chance of making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in seven years. 

Qualifying for a Sweet Sixteen this season would open up a new era of success for the Irish after a several-year rebuild period. Tournament success helps with recruiting and gives younger players important experience. The Irish will need solid contributions from the returners and Starling to step up to his full potential to achieve this level of success this season.

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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.”