Analysis: Culture of passing again key for ND hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Dressed in a Notre Dame men’s basketball uniform for the last time this season before his five-year eligibility plan kicks in, freshman guard Nikola Djogo could have selfishly looked to get something for himself.

It was the closing minutes of another lopsided preseason game Monday for the Irish, who led by as many as 60 before a 103-48 victory over Division III Catholic University at Purcell Pavilion.

The last Irish scholarship player to see the floor, Djogo had the chance at an uncontested layup. Nobody would have thought twice had he completed the high-percentage play.

But he didn’t. It’s just not the way it works around these parts.

The Irish learn early in their collegiate careers — learn it likely before they figure out which classes are in what buildings — that passing is paramount in this program. Make a good one and somewhere along the line, sometime soon, you’re going to get it back.

So Djogo declined two sure points in favor of sophomore Elijah Burns, who he found for a layup and three-point play. Djogo went scoreless, but did have two assists.

He had plenty of company in that category.

For the second straight exhibition, the Irish remained in share-it character and stayed true to the program’s passing roots. Notre Dame finished with 52 points in the paint, 22 points off turnovers, 16 fastbreak points and 33 bench points.

All of it was made possible by the extra pass.

Close game. Blowout game. Doesn’t matter with this group. They’re going to shoot it and score it, but they’re also going to pass it.

Notre Dame finished with 26 assists first time out last week in a 61-point victory over Division II Mercy (N.Y.) College. On Monday, it hit for 28 on 39 baskets.

“You could lock a team in a gym playing five on zero and they couldn’t do that over 40 minutes,” Brey said. “It’s really a fun way to play.”

Junior point guard Matt Farrell led the way again in the passing department. After going for 10 assists last week, he followed with eight. Fellow guard T.J. Gibbs added six. It became contagious, as it usually has under Brey – pass and move and move and pass.

“Everybody knows how to play,” said senior guard Steve Vasturia, who had 14 points and four assists – all in the first half. “You see the way the ball moves, it’s definitely contagious.

“It’s a fun way to play.”

Brey doesn’t wait long every summer to cue up passing clips from previous teams to show the new guys. Not long after his first speech to the newbies – the ball is gold – his second one carries another specific theme – this is what we do. This is our passing culture. The new guys then get it..

“It’s pretty much known as soon as you step on the court with the team,” said senior swingman V.J. Beachem, who scored a game-high 20 points with three assists. “It pretty much rubs off on you when everybody’s playing unselfishly.

“Once everybody’s playing, what we consider the right way, it’s just a beautiful game.”

It’s still early, but the Irish have shown signs in their two exhibitions of being better, more willing ball-movers than last season.

A year ago, Notre Dame ranked eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists at 13.3 per game. They hit for 17 in a frighteningly focused first half.

“We’re working for a great shot, not just a good shot,” Beachem said. “Everybody can pass and cut and move without it.”

Why more movement? Different makeup. Different mindset. No more screen-and-roll with power forward Zach Auguste. The ball doesn’t stick. It moves. A lot. From everyone. To everyone.

Instead of the ball stopping as Auguste goes into his move, it swings from one side to the other. Guys are cutting and moving and just passing more.

Like when Farrell was in the corner in front of the Irish bench and looked to the opposite corner where Beachem was camped. Farrell zipped it to Beachem, who knocked in another 3.

Or when Farrell drove the lane from the wing. He knew he had Martinas Geben diving to the basket and dropped a pocket bounce pass that his classmate flushed with a dunk.

Move it. Share it. Score it.

“Nobody,” Brey said, “has to force anything.”

• Irish senior power forward Austin Torres was taken to a local hospital for precautionary tests just before halftime of Monday’s game after experiencing an accelerated heart rate.

Torres scored two points in three minutes after checking in early in the first half. He then raised his hand toward the bench and asked out of the game near the 10-minute mark. The way Torres immediately asked out of the game was a concern to Brey. And his teammates.

“We had no idea until halftime what was going on and they told us,” Beachem said. “You just gotta say a quick prayer for him. What he does for our team is huge and we’ve got to get him back soon.”

Torres was expected to be released from the hospital later Monday.

“He’s fine,” Brey said.

• Notre Dame held a moment of silence prior to Monday’s game for John Jurek, an usher at university athletic events since 1963. A victim of a hit-and-run accident last week, Jurek died Saturday.

CATHOLIC (48): Jay Howard 14, Brandon Easton 2, Andre Mitchell 2, Louis Khouri 6, Russ Gerber 0, Javier Johnson 3, Billy Barnes 3, Jimmy Golaszewski 2, Jeff Holland 6, Riley Hayes 0, Andrew Wade 7, Will Turner 0. TOTALS: 18 5-16 48.

NOTRE DAME (103): V.J. Beachem 20, Martinas Geben 11, Bonzie Colson 17, Matt Farrell 8, Steve Vasturia 14, Rex Pflueger 8, Austin Torres 2, T.J. Gibbs 3, Matt Ryan 6, Elijah Burns 6,John Mooney 6,Nikola Djogo 0, Matt Gregory 0, Patrick Mazza 2. TOTALS: 39 14-20 103.

Halftime score: Notre Dame 61, Catholic 21.

Field goal shooting: Catholic 18-for-60 (30 percent); Notre Dame 39-of-69 (56.5). 3-point field goals: Catholic 7 (Holland 2, Khouri 2, Johnson, Barnes); Notre Dame 11 (Vasturia 3, Beachem 2, Colson 2, Ryan 2). Rebounds: Catholic 28 (Howard 10); Notre Dame 53 (Colson 13). Assists: Catholic 10 (Easton 2); Notre Dame 28 (Farrell 8). Turnovers: Catholic 13; Notre Dame 8. Total fouls (fouled out); Catholic 18 (none); Notre Dame 16 (none).

Attendance: 5,494.

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