SOUTH BEND — Back at home for a sixth straight non-league game was swell, but back to looking like Notre Dame men’s basketball should look, particularly on the offensive end, sure was sweet.
That was the key takeaway from Tuesday’s 91-66 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in front of 6,166 At Purcell Pavilion.
There was a lot to like on the final stats sheet for the Irish (6-1). A lot to like on the offensive side. Notre Dame continues to embrace a deepening defensive identity, one that has the Irish downright giddy about guarding, but for this program to do anything in the coming weeks and months in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it’s going to have to get it in gear and get going on the offensive end.
Getting to 80 points cannot be but a week- or month-long rumor. It wasn't Tuesday.
Six Irish scored double figures. Notre Dame shot better percentages from the field (50.8 percent) and from 3 (48) than a recent stretch. It received a big boost of points off the bench (38). It finished with 24 assists on 32 baskets. It looked like Irish basketball. Together Irish basketball. Winning Irish basketball.
“That’s how we like to play,” said coach Mike Brey. “That’s a little bit how we played in the past.”
Tuesday allowed Brey to look up at the under-four minute timeout in the second half and already see 80 points on the scoreboard. That used to happen with numbing routine for Notre Dame. It was taken for granted. That hasn’t happened much the last year-plus. It happened Tuesday.
“We threw a couple in,” Brey said. “It’s good to see.”
More good news from the stats sheet was the final point production from a pair of sophomores. Building off his game-tying 3-point shot in an overtime victory over Toledo last week, Nate Laszewski led the Irish with 16 points. He shot it with confidence. He made a fair share, too.
“It’s just a new game,” Laszewski said. “Everyone telling me step up, take your looks. The rest will take care of itself.”
Building off his last six games, five of which has seen him score double figures, Dane Goodwin added 15. Coming off good games the last time out against Toledo, the two enjoyed even better games Tuesday. That’s big. A year ago, they’d have a big game and then go a long stretch before another big game. Going back-to-back means something.
“Goodwin and Laszewski coming off the bench being aggressive for us is going to be important for us,” Brey said. “Hopefully they’re more confident to do it regularly.”
Notre Dame never trailed and led by as many as 27. The Irish entered Tuesday’s game having averaged 63.5 points over their last two home games. The previous three before that, they were scoring it at a clip of 81.6.
Fairleigh Dickinson threatened to make it fairly interesting early in the second half, but Rex Pflueger would let it happen. He mustered a steal to kick-start a break before throwing to T.J. Gibbs. Pflueger then floated to an open area for Gibbs’ throwback pass and a 3 to bump the Irish back up by 13. A possession or two later, Pflueger delivered a step-back/fade jumper in the lane. He just kind of helps the Irish weather everything.
He also flirted, however slightly, with a triple double. Pflueger finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a productive 23 minutes. It’s not that Pflueger finished with that many points or rebounds or assists that mattered most to him. It’s that he finally feels more like himself — a guy that has the ability to get those all-around numbers — that made him happy.
He feels his good. His game looks it. That wasn’t the case earlier this month in the opener at No. 4 North Carolina, or even earlier in the homestand. It’s the case now. And likely moving forward.
“That’s kind of been my game — doing a little bit of everything,” Pflueger said. “My knee’s getting progressively healthier as the games go on and I’m learning how to use my body again.
“Who knows, that is definitely a mark I’m looking for.”
Notre Dame connected on its first three shots, including a banked wing 3 from Gibbs, and five of its first seven to grab a 13-0 lead before the first media timeout. Fairleigh Dickinson missed its first nine before coach Greg Herenda burned a timeout. He called it after a Pflueger to Juwan Durham alley-oop pushed the home team out 13-0 at the 15:14 mark.
Herenda knew he might be in for a long night after walking the Notre Dame campus the previous one. He stopped by the Grotto and lit a candle, but didn’t have the required cash ($3) to pay for it. He handed Brey three bucks on Tuesday.
“The $3 cost me,” he said. “When you get down that big, it’s hard to come back.”
Fairleigh Dickinson played without leading scorer Jahlil Jenkins, who missed his second straight game with injury. The Knights missed their first 12 shots before getting their first points — from the foul line — and missed their first 18 before their first field goal. That finally arrived at 10:03, which cut the Irish lead to 21-6.
Fairleigh Dickinson labored through the first two media timeouts without a field goal. By that point, the Irish were up 20-2. Barely halfway through the first half saw the Irish lead by as many as 19.
The only player in Division I averaging at least 14 points and 13 rebounds, Irish power forward John Mooney went for another double double of 13 points and 13 rebounds. It was his fourth this season and the 24th of his career. Not to be outdone, Durham added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“Those two guys are just so solid,” Brey said.
Notre Dame gets a seven-day break from game action before returning to face No. 5 Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The ACC home opener against Boston College follows on Dec. 7. The big week that awaits will keep the Irish on campus through the Thanksgiving holiday. This home stretch did what it's supposed to do — got Notre Dame confident in its game, in one another. Now it's time for the Irish to go do a little more.
“This confidence booster should be a good one,” Pflueger said. “But it shouldn’t be one we should be satisfied with. These next eight days will be great to build on what we did tonight.”
• NOTRE DAME 91, FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 66
At Purcell Pavilion
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (1-5): Williams 4-10 2-2 10, Bishop 4-18 0-0 10, Rush 4-6 1-2 10, Baker 0-3 0-2 0, Malone-Key 4-12 6-8 17, Dadika 2-3 0-0 5, Rodriguez 4-6 0-0 8, Okeke 1-2 0-0 2, Saliba 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 24-64 11-16 66.<
NOTRE DAME (6-1): Durham 3-7 6-8 12, Mooney 5-11 2-4 13, Hubb 3-6 0-0 7, Pflueger 4-6 0-1 10, Gibbs 4-8 0-0 11, Laszewski 6-12 2-4 16, Doherty 2-3 0-0 4, Goodwin 5-8 2-2 15, Carmody 0-1 3-4 3, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-63 15-23 91.<
Halftime—Notre Dame 42-30. 3-Point Goals—Fairleigh Dickinson 7-23 (Malone-Key 3-8, Bishop 2-6, Dadika 1-2, Rush 1-2, Williams 0-2, Baker 0-3), Notre Dame 12-25 (Goodwin 3-3, Gibbs 3-6, Pflueger 2-3, Laszewski 2-7, Mooney 1-1, Hubb 1-4, Djogo 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Fairleigh Dickinson 32 (Bishop 11), Notre Dame 44 (Mooney 13). Assists—Fairleigh Dickinson 11 (Williams 4), Notre Dame 24 (Hubb, Pflueger, Gibbs 5). Total Fouls—Fairleigh Dickinson 17, Notre Dame 11. A—6,166.