Notre Dame men’s basketball: Irish need to get on same page

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Scrambled for much of a first half when it had trouble guarding anyone wearing anything black, Notre Dame stabilized itself long enough to steal a road win Tuesday at No. 23 Iowa.

But the Irish failed to deliver defensively twice in a 55-second stretch in the second half. Instead of enjoying their first Big Ten/ACC Challenge experience, the Irish were left to examine what they need to do to be better defensively following a 98-93 loss.

Having trailed by as many as 11 points in a first half that saw Iowa do as it pleased on offense, Notre Dame slowed the pace, mustered some stops and climbed back into the contest. With just under nine minutes remaining, it was a one-possession game – 68-66 – following a bucket from Garrick Sherman, who enjoyed a career scoring night.

Sensing the home team was getting tight, Irish coach Mike Brey called for his team to work in a 2-3 zone halfcourt defensive look. Following Sherman’s basket, Zach McCabe found Aaron White breezing by two defenders – Sherman and Pat Connaughton – down the baseline before his two-handed dunk and free throw bumped the Iowa lead back to five at 8:58.

Down three, the Irish tied it when Demetrius Jackson delivered a 3-pointer in front of the Notre Dame bench. On Iowa’s next possession, again against zone, Hawkeye forward Jared Uthoff came up empty on a drive from the left wing.

The ball bounced on the rim and was there for the Irish defensive-rebounding taking.

But nobody in a white jersey accounted for White, who had been camped out beyond the 3-point line. As Uthoff drove and delivered, Irish guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant both turned their backs and ball-watched. That left White free to move in untouched and deposit a rebound dunk to make it 73-71 with 8:03 remaining.

Both clips likely found their way to the post-Iowa film session for Notre Dame (5-2).

Coming close only to come up empty on the defensive end was most on Brey’s mind afterward.

“We can’t win like that,” he said of the breakdowns. “If you’re going to go on the road against a good team, those have to be better. We could never have five guys on the same page defensively.”

Offensively, there was much for the Irish to like. Working against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses that had smothered its first seven opponents, Notre Dame scored 50 points, shot 54.3 percent and committed only one turnover in a spirited second half. But for every positive — Sherman’s 29 points, 10 assists from Jerian Grant, which tied his career high — there was a missed defensive assignment, a missed defensive blockout or a clean look allowed from 3.

Notre Dame limited Iowa to 12 second-chance points but was out-rebounded 36-26.

“Their size got to us,” said Atkins. “That hurt us in the end.”

With no Jack Cooley to count on this season, rebounding was a concern the first day of practice, the first game of the regular season and likely will continue to be a red-flag worry the rest of the way, especially if the Irish go even more with a four-guard lineup that limits their size and length and ability to gang-protect the basket.

“You want to block out and get in there,” Brey said.

The Irish know they have to be way better on that end of the floor as the season moves forward, otherwise it’s going to be one long winter.

Ninety-three points usually are enough for the Irish to win.

“We’re going to be efficient on offense no matter what, but we know it starts with defense,” Sherman said. “We start getting rebounds, we can get things going.”

Notre Dame ranks 10th out of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference in defensive rebounding (24.9 per game), 11th in scoring defense (69.7) and 14th in field goal percentage defense (37.0).

Iowa’s 93 points and 56.9 percent shooting were season highs for an Irish opponent.

Notre Dame has allowed 83 and 93 points in its two losses. Tuesday was the first time during Brey’s 14-year tenure that the Irish have scored at least 90 points in regulation and lost. Only Villanova (2007) and North Carolina (2008) have scored more points (each went for 102) in a regulation game during Brey’s career at Notre Dame.

In the Club

He’s been the most consistent power forward since preseason camp commenced, but had never had that one breakout game in a big-time road atmosphere. Until he did, Brey didn’t know what he could count on from Sherman.

The Kenton, Ohio native then scored a season-high 29 points with a team-high nine rebounds against Iowa. That scored major points with Brey, who talked afterward of now having Sherman in the same key contributor category as his veteran perimeter of Atkins, Grant and Connaughton.

“Having Coach endorse me as one of the main guys, that’s always a big deal,” Sherman said. “I’m not shying away from it at all. I embrace it. I knew I had to come on the road and establish myself as a main guy.”

Coming on

After easing into the first four games of his collegiate career, Jackson has set career highs for minutes played in each of the last three. Making his second-straight start, Jackson scored nine points with two rebounds and an assist in 33 minutes. He also continued to be active and aggressive on the defensive end, which helps offset the small, four-guard Irish lineup.

“He’s really good,” Brey said. “He made some big plays for us getting loose balls.”

The 6-foot-1 Jackson also found himself defending Iowa guard Roy Devyn Marble, who stands 6-6.

“I told the assistants, ‘This is stupid. Why are we doing this? This isn’t fair to this kid in this atmosphere,’” Brey said. “And he was really good. The other (Hawkeyes) hurt us more.”

Marble scored all 13 of his second-half points in a 3:41 burst, then went scoreless the final 12:33.

Travel travails

Notre Dame’s traveling party was scheduled to leave Eastern Iowa Airport – located halfway between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City – around midnight central time Wednesday for a 45-minute charter flight back to South Bend. But dense fog kept the Irish grounded.

Continued fog and poor visibility prohibited the Irish charter from taking off again later Wednesday morning. Around 11 a.m. central time, Notre Dame boarded a bus for the five-plus hour trip back to campus.

It made for a long trip, but it could have been worse. The last time the Irish ran into such weather/flight problems coming home occurred at the end of the 2009-10 season. When high winds and poor weather closed the New York City-area airports, Notre Dame took an 11-hour bus ride home after being eliminated from the Big East tournament.

Wednesday was the team’s scheduled day off. The Irish return to practice Thursday for two days of work heading into Saturday’s home game against Delaware.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com

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Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant, left, drives to the basket ahead of  Iowa's Melsahn Basabe during Tuesday night's game in Iowa City.