Categories
Sports

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+.