Notre Dame Basketball Report: Young Irish Experiencing Growing Pains

The challenges of putting a young and rebuilding team on the court has its ups and downs, with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish unfortunately experiencing the latter portion during their two games last week. Both contests saw the Irish having the opportunity to come away with a victory before some stumbles down the stretch resulted in defeats that drop them to 6-3 on the year.

In each of the losses, the Irish fell behind before managing a comeback that couldn’t be sustained. Both clashes were the first time Notre Dame had ventured from Purcell Pavilion this season, with the hope being that the learning curve for the newcomers includes figuring out exactly how to win on the road on a regular basis.

Notre Dame Basketball’s Week in Review

The first of two games last week saw the Irish play on the road for the first time this season, facing the Oklahoma Sooners at Madison Square Garden. The contest was historic in one sense because it marked the first-ever meeting on the court between the two schools. Like Notre Dame, Oklahoma entered the clash with a 6-1 record on the young season, but it was the Sooners who walked off the court with an improved mark by holding on for an 85-80 victory.

The Irish only held a few brief leads during the game, the last coming with 13:48 left after a dunk by Juwan Durham that made it 50-49. That was in the midst of a 21-9 Notre Dame run, with Mike Brey’s squad having one final opportunity to capture the win in the closing minutes. They trailed 78-77 with 2:26 left, following a layup from Prentiss Hubb, but watched the Sooners’ Christian James score his team’s last seven points to salt away the win.

Four nights later, the resumption of what had been a classic rivalry came when Notre Dane traveled to Pauley Pavillion to take on the UCLA Bruins. This loss turned out to be even more painful when the Bruins connected on a three-pointer with just 0.1 seconds left to win 65-62, spoiling a determined comeback that saw the Irish trailing by 14 early in the second half.

UCLA led 53-45 with 9:52 to go, which was when Notre Dae embarked on a 19-4 run over the next six minutes ti take a 62-57 lead with 3:39 left in the contest. However, that surge turned into a short-circuit with the Irish unable to add to their total while watching the Bruins knot the score and then deliver the buzzer-beating dagger. Rex Plflueger made his homecoming a good one with 14 points and six rebounds, while Juwan Durham slapped away another four opposing shots.

Notre Dame Standouts of the Week

John Mooney

Even if the team’s results weren’t a success on the scoreboard, Mooney did his part by collecting double-doubles in each contest. Against Oklahoma, he and Durham each tossed in 15 points though he was dominant on the glass by hauling down 14 boards on the night. In the UCLA matchup, he tallied 12 points and scooped up 11 rebounds.

TJ Gibbs

Gibbs had a team-high 18 points in the Oklahoma loss, also adding a trio of rebounds and assists to his scoring ledger. His long-range shooting proved to be much better than his overall numbers, connecting on four of his six three-point attempts, as opposed to 6-of-16 overall. In the UCLA clash, he managed nine points and four assists.

D.J. Harvey

In each of the Irish’s two games, Harvey scored in double-figures, scoring 11 points against Oklahoma and then chipping in with 13 points and six rebounds against UCLA. In the latter case, he also contributed on the defensive side by collecting three steals, but struggled with his long-range shooting by making just one of his six shots.

Notre Dame Basketball’s Week Ahead

Final exams are largely in focus during the week, which explains why the Irish schedule has just one game on tap. That’s a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers that will take place in Indianapolis. Despite the fact that these two teams both reside in the state of Indiana, this will be only the fifth time they”ve met in the past 52 years, with three of those battles occurring within the past six seasons.

That trio of matchups have all been connected to the Crossroads Classic, which also features Indiana and Butler, who will take on each other in the other game. Since the event began in 2011, the Irish have rotated between facing Purdue and Indiana, but have yet to take on Butler.

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  1. Shot selection in the first half is a big problem as they tend to hoist quick threes. I think of the 2015 team and the way they moved the ball to get the right shot. Vasturia for example was an assassin from the corner and in the classic home win against Duke Grant got him a corner three to ice the game. Then in the ACC championship game they fed the ball around the perimeter and Vasturia nailed a corner three to give ND the lead for good. During that sequence Jackson, Connaughton, and Grant each turned down open threes to get Vasturia the best shot.

    This team needs to get to know each other in that way. I don’t think Lazsewski shoot as well from the wing as they do from the corner. There was a position in which Durham had the ball in the post, the defense collapsed, Lazsewski slid down to the corner, Durham kicked it out and Lazsewski nailed the three. That was Mike Brey basketball.

    I don’t remember Gibbs or Harvey being great three point shooters. They seem to have better mid range games. I thought last year that the step Gibbs needed to take was to drive and kick. When he drives he’s usually effective. Harvey just takes careless shots. Hubb has a funny high arc on his shot and he also seems to have a better mid range game. He needs to learn to protect the ball when driving to the hoop.

    The numbers don’t lie. They shot 3 for 15 from the arc in the first half and 5 for 10 in the second. They drove more, passed better and got better shots.

  2. WE knew this young team would struggle this year and that’s exactly what’s happening. They continue to play hard but often beat themselves in these games, through inexperience. Foul shooting has been poor especially in the final minutes of close games!! As AL MAGUIRE used to say ” THE BEST THING ABOUT A FRESHMAN IS HE BECOMES A SOPHOMORE ” !! ND only loses PFLUEGER after this year and with the experience and playing time these kids are getting, we should see a very good team next year.

  3. The Irish are very inconsistent in games this year. If they can maintain that consistency better they have the capability of generating more wins.

    I noticed it particularly against Illinois 2 weeks ago. They would go on an incredible tear, making shots and stops, then suddenly like someone flipping a switch they go cold.

    They’re not losing games badly at the end of the game. Against Radford and UCLA they lost on the last play of the game basically, and even OK was a close game at the end of the day. But their problem is these prolonged stretches when it seems they basically shut down.

    What gives me some reason to hope is that this is a coachable issue I believe. If they can just sustain their game more and avoid those hot-cold periods then can win a lot of games. It’s something Brey will have to work on with the team.

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