Potential for Notre Dame senior power forward Martinas Geben to play the way he has eight games into the season always was there.
Somewhere. Irish coach Mike Brey somehow had to tap into it.
Consider it tapped.
Heading into Tuesday’s home game against Ball State (4-4), the 6-foot-10, 252-pound Geben had quietly delivered the best stretch of his career. He’s averaging career highs for points (8.8), rebounds (5.5) and minutes (20.6). He’s shooting career bests from the field (77.1 percent) and the foul line (80.0). On Sunday, in an otherwise ugly basketball outing — a 71-53 victory over St. Francis Brooklyn — Geben set career highs for points (14) and rebounds (10). It was his first career double double.
“Senior year, you’re supposed to be playing your best basketball,” Geben said. “I think I’m doing that.”
He’s done a whole lot more than just make the two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining to help the No. 9 Irish (7-1) win the Maui Jim Maui Invitational with a 67-66 victory over Wichita State. That he was on the floor at the end of that close contest was a big step. In previous seasons, even last year in his first as a starter, Geben often sat more than he played. He entered this season averaging 8.0 minutes per game. He’s yet to play fewer than 15. The more he’s been on the floor, the more he’s scored and rebounded and impacted games.
Just as assistant coach Ryan Humphrey, who tutors the Irish bigs, insisted. Brey wondered in a recent staff meeting what Geben’s numbers might look like if he played, say, 25-27 minutes. Might more time make him a potential double-double guy?
“Hump said, ‘I really think he could,’” Brey said. “He’s kind of delivered. If there was ever a guy that deserved to have a good senior year, it was Martin.”
Having played well again Sunday, Geben deflected any additional attention. It’s not about him getting double doubles or dunks or being on the floor when it all matters. For a guy who’s been a part of an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and two runs to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, it’s about something bigger.
“I’m extremely grateful (but) it’s not about my own performance,” he said. “Numbers don’t mean anything unless we win.”
Sunday’s warmups saw the Irish sport navy blue shooting shirts with two phrases printed in capitalized gold letters across the chest. One was “Rain Coats.” The other was “Power Claps.”
Both speak to the team’s next-play philosophy.
The team adopted the “rain coat” saying last year. It means that if a coach or a teammate is critical about an aspect of your game, wear a rain coat. Let the words roll off your back like rain and just keep playing, keep working. Be a man about the situation. Take responsibility.
The “power clap” term also goes toward that philosophy. If an Irish player misses a shot or makes a mistake, Brey doesn’t want him to dwell on it. Simply give a power clap or two – “Clap! Clap!” – and then move on to the next play.
Geben waved the T-shirt at Brey in the locker room after Sunday’s game, which saw the head coach ejected for the first time in his career. Brey promised to wear the shirt the rest of the week in practice as a reminder to settle for the power clap instead of the two technical fouls he earned late in the second half.
Last week’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at No. 3 Michigan State was quite the (forgettable) experience for Irish freshman swingman D.J. Harvey. It was the first time in his collegiate career that he’s been in an atmosphere that intense. His game showed.
Harvey went scoreless in 16 minutes. He was admittedly, and not surprisingly, overwhelmed.
Again getting an early call Sunday, Harvey checked in with 14:17 remaining in the first half. Sixty seconds later he was taking and making what has become his trademark shot – a mid-range jumper in the lane. He followed that with a corner 3.
Harvey finished with 10 points and three rebounds in 24 minutes, which tied his career high.
“I came in looking to be more aggressive, not complaining about calls, not wearing my heart on my sleeve,” he said. “Just go out there and play.”
Harvey is averaging 7.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 19.3 minutes.
Brey wasn’t overly concerned about his team going stagnant offensively late last month. Playing against two teams – No. 6 Wichita State and No. 3 Michigan State – that can suffocate you defensively will do that.
The issues continued Sunday against St. Francis. After shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3 in scoring 43 points in the first half, the Irish shot just 27.6 percent from the field, 14.3 percent from 3 with 28 points in the second.
“It’s been hard for us to get out of the gate on the offensive end,” Brey said. “Thank God, we’ve been defending or we could be in more trouble.”
Notre Dame currently ranks seventh in the ACC in scoring offense (80.1) and third in scoring defense (61.9). A year ago, the Irish finished ranked seventh (77.3) and fifth (69.3).
How can the Irish be better on the offensive end? Myriad ways. Maybe change the angles of their entry passes. Feed the post even more and move better off that. Focus more on transition offense, especially after getting stops, so they don’t have to work so much against a set defense. Or just play.
“We just need to stop thinking,” Geben said. “Just move and cut, let it happen naturally.”
After scoring 92 points in a 39-point victory over LSU on Nov. 21, Notre Dame has averaged 67 points over its last three games.
Sitting out this season after transferring from Connecticut, Notre Dame sophomore power forward Juwan Durham will need surgery after injuring his left wrist.
On Sunday, Durham had his left arm in a sling and the wrist bandaged. Durham is expected to be sidelined from practice for up to eight weeks.
Durham has three years of eligibility remaining starting next fall.