Categories
Sports

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.

Categories
Sports

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.

Categories
Sports

‘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.

Contact Sammie McCarthy at smccart9@nd.edu