Analysis: Matt Ryan shoots Notre Dame past Chicago State

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Slowed in preseason by a stress reaction in his right foot, Notre Dame sophomore swingman Matt Ryan rarely panicked or pondered more playing time.

He figured that he would be fully fine by Thanksgiving.

That mid-October estimation was off by about two days.

Able to get his shot to fall early, Ryan jumped into one of those coveted shooting zones and stayed in it for most of Saturday’s wipeout win over Chicago State. He busted loose for a career-high 23 points on a career-best seven 3-pointers in a 91-60 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

It was business as usual for a shooter. Take shots. Make shots.

“I just had a good practice yesterday and it carried over,” Ryan said. “I’ve been getting a few extra reps up. It just felt good today.”

At one point, Ryan was on track to score 105 points after erupting for 15 – five 3s – in the first six minutes he was on the floor.

Ryan is ready to prove that he can be more than a one-shot pony. On Saturday, he also grabbed three rebounds and had a career-best three assists in a season-high 23 minutes. But it’s the stroke that separates him from others. It’s often so smooth, so pure, so sure. Seldom does it not feel good. Saturday, it just looked different. Maybe because he looked different. Moved different.

That’s by design.

Irish coach Mike Brey noticed something about two weeks ago to Ryan’s practice approach. There was too much glide to his game. He needed to move with more of a purpose and plan. Do non-gameday drills in game speed.

Ryan started working between his classes with assistant coach Ryan Ayers, who knows well how to knock a shot or two down from distance. For 20 minutes during the week, Ayers has Ryan cutting and moving and shooting quicker between shot attempts.

“Kind of like how he was moving tonight,” Brey said. “The carry-over is better. It’s a great weapon. We’ve got to know when to ride him and when not to ride him.”

On Saturday, it was time to saddle up No. 4. As Ryan got it going, so too did the usual guys. Steady senior Steve Vasturia added a season-high 19 points. V.J. Beachem offered 15 points and Bonzie Colson delivered another double-double for points (10) and rebounds (11) to go with a career-high five assists.

But this was Ryan’s night. There have been times when he’d make an early 3, then struggle to get another one to fall. Not Saturday. The first one looked good and dropped. The second one looked better. By the time his third fell, his teammates were making it a point to find him. No matter where he shot it, it was a surprise when it didn’t drop.

During one out-of-bounds under situation early in the second half, Ryan set a down screen for a teammate, rolled off it toward midcourt, then faded into the far corner. He took a quick pass from teammate T.J. Gibbs and tossed in a fall-away 3.

Aware at halftime that he might flirt with the school record for Purcell Pavilion 3s (9, held by three Irish, including Ayers, who jokingly breathed a sigh of relief afterward), Ryan finished 7-of-14 from behind the arc.

“I gotta put a whole game together,” Ryan said. “That’s coming. Sooner or later.”

The way Ryan operated Saturday reminded Gibbs of their AAU days in the New York area when he and Ryan battled on opposite teams.

“It took me back to sitting in the gyms and thinking, ‘Oh, God, here this kid goes again,’” Gibbs said. “It feels good to be on his side rather than against him.

“He’s a sniper. You let him set his feet and it’s going in.”

The calling card of this team is beginning to show now six games into the season. It doesn’t matter from what spots they get their shots – the field, behind the 3-point line or the free throw line – Notre Dame (6-0) is just going to make more of them than the opposition. From anywhere. From anyone.

The Irish move it (they had a season-high 26 assists), shoot it (55.9 percent from the field, 46.9 percent from 3) and score it (they’re averaging 85.6 ppg.).

Over 40 minutes, no opponent has been able to keep up.

“It’s so much fun being out there with guys who can shoot the ball and just trusting everyone,” said Gibbs, who had eight points, four rebounds and five assists, which tied his career high. “No matter who has the ball, where we’re going with it, we have that trust in each other and it’s just an amazing feeling.”

If it’s not Ryan, then it’s Vasturia. Or Beachem. Colson. Gibbs. Somebody, everybody, it seems will get it going.

“Our offensive efficiency with this group, that’s been the hallmark of the program, this is kind of it on steroids,” Brey said. “We have a lot of different weapons; we don’t have to ride just one.”

• Notre Dame played Saturday without sophomore sixth man Rex Pflueger, who sat out with bruised ribs suffered during the Nov. 18 home victory over Loyola (Md.). Pflueger is expected to be back for Tuesday’s home game against Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

CHICAGO ST. (2-3): Patrick Szpir 1-1 0-2 2, Glen Burns 1-4 2-4 5, Fred Sims Jr. 4-12 2-3 11, Clemmye Owens V 3-9 0-0 6, Trayvon Palmer 5-11 2-4 15, Deionte Simmons 2-4 0-0 4, Brian Greene Jr. 1-1 0-0 3, Gentry Hunt 1-1 0-0 3, Joshua Batson 1-4 1-3 4, Delundre Dixon 2-2 0-0 5, Anthony Eaves 1-7 0-0 2, Aex Dubovitsky 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 7-16 60.

NOTRE DAME (6-0): Martinas Geben 1-1 1-2 3, Bonzie Colson 3-8 3-4 10, V.J. Beachem 6-12 0-0 15, Steve Vasturia 8-13 0-0 19, Matt Farrell 2-8 2-2 6, Austin Torres 1-1 0-0 2, Patrick Mazza 0-0 0-0 0, Elijah Burns 1-1 0-0 2, Matt Gregory 0-2 0-0 0, John Mooney 1-1 0-0 3, Matt Ryan 8-15 0-1 23, T.J. Gibbs 3-4 0-0 8. Totals 34-66 6-9 91.

Halftime--Notre Dame 50-31. 3-Point Goals--Chicago St. 9-26 (Palmer 3-6, Greene 1-1, Hunt 1-1, Dixon 1-1, G.Burns 1-2, Batson 1-2, Sims 1-4, Dubovitsky 0-1, Simmons 0-1, Eaves 0-3, Owens 0-4), Notre Dame 17-37 (Ryan 7-14, Vasturia 3-5, Beachem 3-7, Gibbs 2-2, Mooney 1-1, Colson 1-2, Gregory 0-2, Farrell 0-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Chicago St. 28 (Palmer 9), Notre Dame 39 (Colson 11). Assists--Chicago St. 10 (G.Burns 4), Notre Dame 26 (Farrell 7). Total Fouls--Chicago St. 12, Notre Dame 17. A--6,804 (9,149).

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Notre Dame’s Matt Ryan looks to shoot during Saturday's game against Chicago State at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)