{child_flags:featured}AN OK EXHIBITION

{child_byline}By Tom Noie | South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — Ugly possessions, even uglier looking shots and times when it seemed everything was moving through mud typically aren’t exhibition staples for Notre Dame.

The Irish often shoot it pretty well, move it even better and, above all else, take really good care of a basketball they learn to consider as gold. Most of the contest then goes into cruise control.

Then there’s Thursday.

Coach Mike Brey offered earlier this week that patience will be a buzzword — maybe THE buzzword — as this team works through the fall and most of winter. We saw why against Central State (Ohio) at Purcell Pavilion.

Unable to consistently make an open shot (6-of-17 from 3) or take good care of the ball (eight turnovers), the Irish muddled through the first 20 minutes en route to a 76-54 victory.

There have been many nights when the Irish have cruised to at least 80 points. made it look effortless. Thursday, it was hard to get to 76. On nights like these, it’s key for the Irish that their main guy takes over. Junior guard T.J. Gibbs did in leading the team in scoring with 17 points. When the offense bogged down, Gibbs just went and got himself something, be it a drive or a 3. A deep 3.

John Mooney added 11 points and five rebounds. Freshman Dane Goodwin had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. D.J. Harvey added nine points and eight rebounds. The Irish led by as many as 30.

The Irish moved to 38-0 in exhibitions during Brey’s 19 seasons. Notre Dame hasn’t lost an exhibition since 1999 — Matt Doherty’s lone season — against Marathon Oil.

Returning only two starters and void of all of its consistent rebounders from last season. Notre Dame won the rebounding battle, 48-35, but that was to be expected. Nobody on the other team, coached by former Irish forward Joseph Price, stood taller than 6-foot-8. But what the Marauders lacked in height, they made up for with a willingness to compete. To make it difficult for stretches for the home team. It was difficult for a team that features four freshmen and one true senior.

Thursday was Notre Dame’s second preseason exhibition. The Irish played Sunday in Indianapolis against Cincinnati, a scrimmage that was closed to any and all outsiders. Notre Dame lost 66-61.

Brey juggled his starting lineup the second time around. He went with Harvey in place of senior Elijah Burns. Harvey led the Irish with 13 points against the Bearcats. The rest of the starting lineup remained the same with Mooney around the guard trio of T.J. Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb and Rex Pflueger.

The game wasn’t even eight minutes old before Brey rolled out four of the five freshmen on the floor at the same time, run by point guard Nik Djogo. It’s going to be that way for a while with this squad — a lot of different combinations on a lot of different nights to see what’s clicking and who’s not.

Notre Dame went 11 deep less than nine minutes into a first half that featured eight different lineup combinations. None really clicked. Freshman Chris Doherty was the only scholarship player not to see minutes in a first half that saw the Irish trail by three after the opening bucket and lead by as many as 16 on the final basket, a wing 3 from Harvey set up by a Dane Goodwin drive and kick.

The second half looked basically like a second half of a game that doesn’t count. Lot of shots. Lot of lineup combinations. Not a lot of intensity. A lopsided final score. The Irish didn’t get their 10th assist until 6:17 remained.

It all starts for real for Notre Dame on Tuesday — Election Night — when Illinois-Chicago visits in the regular-season opener. That also starts a stretch of seven-straight home games to open the year for the Irish, the program’s longest to start in 32 seasons.

Notre Dame doesn’t play a game outside of Purcell Pavilion until the Dec. 4 game against Oklahoma at Madison Square Garden. Expect the Irish, who were picked in preseason to finish ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, to look a lot different that night than they did Thursday.

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tnoie@ndinsider.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: @tnoieNDI