Starters settle in as Notre Dame sails away to exhibition basketball win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – A rotational revolving door that spun and spun early and often through the exhibition runs finally ceased to start the second half Thursday for No. 19 Notre Dame.

Having played myriad lineups the previous three halves over two games — going big, going small, going both, playing old, playing young, just playing - it was time to settle in and let the main five guys be the main five guys without wondering how many minutes they might get before exiting.

Nobody benefited more from the set rotation than junior guard Steve Vasturia in the first half of the second half of an 81-56 victory over Division II Caldwell (N.J.) University.

Having played half of that opening period, the Medford, N.J., native had little to show for the sweat. He missed his only shot — a 3-pointer — had one rebound, one foul, one assist and one turnover. Yet few could tell at intermission. Whether going for 20 points or getting nothing, he often maintains a steady pulse.

“He’s got the same face on the whole game,” said sophomore guard Matt Farrell, who delivered another solid effort with nine points and five assists in 25 minutes. “You can never count him out, no matter what’s going on. He just plays his game.

“He’s a tremendous player.”

Though barely halfway through his collegiate career, Vasturia also has been around long enough and played too many major minutes to push any sort of panic button, especially in an exhibition game. There’s always another half to work, and more chances to matter.

“You kind of need to forget about it,” Vasturia said. “You have 20 more minutes to play and just be more aggressive. You refocus, go out in the second half and do what you do.”

That he did.

Vasturia scored all 11 of his points and grabbed four of his five rebounds in 15 second-half minutes. He was active and aggressive from the start. He spotted up in seemingly his favorite spot — the corner — and waited for Zach Auguste to zip a pass with one hand his way for a 3-pointer. Vasturia hit another 3 to put the Irish up 19, then went to work on other aspects of his offensive game.

Working through traffic off an out-of-bounds under the basket situation, Vasturia found a clearing on the baseline from mid-range for a jumper. He then finished the flurry with a strong drive and left-handed layup.

He did it all in an efficient 7:58 spurt.

“You see one go in, they have to respect that and your confidence goes up,” Vasturia said. “Then you’re able to create more opportunities.”

Notre Dame fielded 10 lineup combinations featuring all 12 scholarship players at one time or another in a first half in which the Irish trailed by as many as six but led by as many as 15.

The one lineup that may have been on the floor for the fewest minutes the first 20 was the starting unit. Needing a little more energy out of the gate but not getting it, the Irish fell into a six-point hole as the Cougars hit four of their first six shots, many of those uncontested.

“We didn’t start out defensively the way we wanted to,” Vasturia said. “We weren’t in the passing lanes. That can’t happen. We’ve got to get off to a better start.”

The Irish went small for a good chunk of the first half, and it paid off. The lineup helped kick-start a 17-2 run that gave the home team a comfortable working margin for the final 11 minutes of the first half.

“The subs came in and gave a lot of energy,” said freshman guard Matt Ryan, who offered eight points and four rebounds in 15 minutes. “We’ve got to rebound better the first half.”

Coach Mike Brey then extended the starters a little longer — way beyond the under-14 minute timeout — to open the second half. Notre Dame scored 44 points and shot 48.6 percent from the field the final 20 minutes.

The days of everyone getting minutes effectively ended just before around 9 p.m. Thursday.

“I’m playing too many guys,” Brey said, only half-jokingly. “That’s over. You’ve got to shave it down to some key guys and make some decisions on who’s going to be in that rotation.

"Eventually, intramurals is over.”

The first 20 minutes had their share of odd numbers for Notre Dame. After outrebounding their first opponent by 22 the previous week, the Irish were outrebounded by five. They also had eight blocks after tallying just one the first time out. And after going a sizzling 21-of-25 (84 percent) from the line last week, the Irish missed five of their first nine attempts Thursday.

The Irish finished with a (+11) rebounding advantage, but were only 9-of-19 (47.4 percent) from the foul line. They also had 14 blocks, twice as many as their high for a game last season.

“We are long,” Brey said. “We’ve got length on the floor more minutes than last year. That’s good because we were able to recover defensively and block a shot.”

Dawan Lighty led Caldwell with 15 points.

"It was a great experience," Lighty said of playing Notre Dame. "We have some younger guys, so it was a good experience for everybody all around the board. I appreciate the experience and had fun here."

Notre Dame opens the regular season Nov. 13 against St. Francis (Pa.). The Irish will unveil their 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship banner that night.

CALDWELL (56): Billy McDonald 5-15 0-0 10; Vin O’Berine 3-8 0-0 6; Dawan Lighty 6-15 0-0 15; Salvatore Vitello 3-8 0-0 8; Brian Kenny 1-5 2-2 4; Tyler Drews 0-2 0-0 0; Treston Forbes 0-1 0-0 0; Bernard Brantley 1-1 0-0 2; Ned Ogoemesim 1-4 0-0 2; Ahmad Harrison 0-2 2-4 2; Daniel Knight 0-1 0-0 0; ustin Woods 1-3 0-0 2; T. Elliott-Smith 2-4 0-2 4; Christian Ejiga 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23 4-8 56

NOTRE DAME (81): V.J. Beachem 5-12 0-0 13; Zach Auguste 4-6 1-6 9; Bonzie Colson 4-7 1-2 9; Demetrius Jackson 5-11 1-1 11; Steve Vasturia 4-5 1-2 11; Rex Pflueger 1-4 0-0 2; Austin Torres 2-3 0-1 4; Matt Ryan 2-6 2-2 8; Matt Farrell 3-6 2-3 9; Elijah Burns 1-1 1-2 3; Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0; Martinas Geben 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS: 32 9-19 81.

Halftime score: Notre Dame 37, Caldwell 25.

Field-goal shooting: Caldwell 23-for-69 (33.3 percent); Notre Dame 32-for-64 (50). 3-point field goals: Caldwell 6 (Lighty 3, Vitello 2, Kenny); Notre Dame 9 (Beachem 3, Vasturia 2, Ryan 2, Farrell). Rebounds: Caldwell 38 (Lighty 7); Notre Dame 49 (Auguste 8). Assists: Caldwell 8 (Vitello 2); Notre Dame 19 (Jackson 5). Turnovers: Caldwell 10; Notre Dame 11. Total fouls (fouled out): Caldwell 19 (none); Notre Dame 16 (none).

Officials: Terry Wymer, Lamont Simpson, Lamar Simpson. A: 5,585.

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Notre Dame junior guard Steve Vasturia probes a driving angle during Thursday's exhibition victory over Division II Caldwell (N.J.) University.SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ