Plenty for Notre Dame men to fine-tune in exhibition hoops finale

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Satisfaction seldom is guaranteed during the college basketball season with another practice, another film session, another game, another challenge coming quickly.

Notre Dame wraps preseason exhibition play Monday against Division III power Catholic University. It’s a chance for the Irish to be better than they were the first time out last week.

But how much better? Notre Dame scored 119 points — most ever for an exhibition under coach Mike Brey — including 64 in the second half. The Irish shot 62.1 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3, placed six players in double figures and finished with a +25 rebounding advantage. They led by as many as 64 points and handed out a staggering 26 assists against Division II Mercy (N.Y.) College.

All of that good was reinforced by Brey during film session the next day. Look at the ball movement. Look at the way guys stayed in character. The overall unselfishness. The collective commitment to compete on the backboard. All really good for the first time out.

But …

One aspect of the effort left senior captain Steve Vasturia somewhat salty.

Vasturia played his usual steady game. In 25 minutes, he scored nine points with two rebounds. He looked to get others involved and was the last starter to finally score. He just wanted to play in his typical way and not force anything.

But he forced something. A few times. He had a team-high four turnovers.

Exhibition or not, Vasturia knows that cannot happen. Not for a captain. Not for a senior.

“I’ve got to be better in that situation and I’m confident I will,” Vasturia said. “We did a lot of good things, especially when we were up big (but) you just try to get better, find the small things and nit-picking seeing where we can improve.”

Fellow senior V.J. Beachem also wasn’t all that satisfied. He scored a team-high 18 points and seemingly picked up this fall where he left off last spring. But like Vasturia, he dwelled later mainly on his turnovers (two).

Notre Dame’s two seniors accounted for six of the 11 miscues. They’ve heard Brey’s cardinal rule now for four years — treat the ball like gold.

Neither did.

“Steve and V.J. were upset with how they turned the ball over,” Brey said. “There are things that we can do better.”

Junior power forward Martinas Geben looks to take another step Monday in the right direction. It was a rough beginning for the first-time starter last week. Geben committed a turnover — he traveled while working through a post move on Notre Dame’s first possession — in the opening 16 seconds. He also tallied three fouls less than halfway through the first half.

Had this been any other season, any other game, Geben likely would have been subbed out with zero chance of getting back in. But he’s now a main guy, which means he gets second and third chances to play through his miscues.

And he did.

Geben settled down to score 12 points with nine rebounds in 17 minutes. He didn’t commit another turnover after his first; he didn’t commit another foul after his third.

“Coach Brey is learning how to trust me more on the court and that I can perform,” Geben said. “The previous two years, I’d be yanked right away. Now I have the mentality of a short memory and moving on to the next play.”

It was a big step for Geben. Now it’s time to take another.

“He’s really growing,” Brey said. “What helps him is the support of the older guys. They have made him really believe how important he is. When he makes a mistake, those guys pick him up and it’s more powerful than me picking him up.

“They know we need him.”

Notre Dame also needs sophomore swingman Matt Ryan. Still recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot suffered in preseason, Ryan sat out Tuesday’s exhibition opener. He was back full-go in Wednesday’s practice. Ryan was expected to participate fully in the three practices following Thursday’s day off heading into the Catholic game.

He needs to play. Now.

“His conditioning is not there, but I want to get him in the game,” Brey said. “We need to get him in a uniform and in the game.”

And keep getting better.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Exhibition

WHO: Notre Dame vs. Catholic University.

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: ACC Network Extra via WatchESPN.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM); audio link also available on WatchND.

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

WORTH NOTING: Located in Washington, Catholic is a Division III school with an enrollment of 6,500. … A member of the nine-team Landmark Conference, Catholic went 13-3 in the league and 22-6 overall last season. The Cardinals won both the regular season and post-season league championships before advancing to the Division III post-season tournament. … This is Catholic's lone preseason exhibition. … Of the 21 players on the Cardinals' roster, none stand over 6-foot-8. … Catholic is led by 6-3, 220-pound junior swingman Jay Howard, a first team all-league selection last season who averaged a team-best 20.1 points and shot 59 percent from the field in 33.1 minutes. … The Cardinals averaged 81.2 points and allowed 82.8 last season. … This is Catholic’s second exhibition visit to Notre Dame. Guard Ben Hansbrough scored a game-high 30 points with six 3-pointers for a 72-47 Irish win on Nov. 6, 2010 … Notre Dame opens the regular season Saturday at noon at home against Bryant.

WORTH QUOTING: “They’re pretty darn mature, man. They come in and work on stuff.”

• Irish coach Mike Brey on his team being better following Monday’s 61-point exhibition victory.