Notes: Martinas Geben delivers big minutes in big stretch for Notre Dame hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Barreling off the bench, down the sideline, past the scorer’s table and into the game, Notre Dame junior power forward Martinas Geben resembled a holiday shopper chasing down a Black Friday discount.

Really, he just had to make sure to get into Tuesday’s second half against Iowa before coach Mike Brey bellowed his name a third time.

Caught up in the moment of a close contest, Geben didn’t hear Brey bark for him to get in for junior Bonzie Colson the first time. When he did it again – “Marty!” – Geben answered.

And then he did it again on the floor.

Geben played only 11 minutes before fouling out of the 92-78 victory, but it was his work during a 4:22 stretch that helped keep the Irish undefeated (7-0) while off to their best start since 2010.

“It’s growing my confidence and growing Coach’s confidence in me that he can trust me with situations in tough games, close games,” Geben said.

Needing someone who could lay a big body on Iowa’s Cordell Pensl, who was having his way around the bucket in the second half, Brey summoned the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Geben during a stoppage before an out-of-bounds under situation. Eight seconds after checking in, Geben grabbed a defensive rebound and forced a foul on Pensl. Geben then grabbed another rebound and set a screen down on the offensive end for guard Matt Farrell. Geben rolled to the hoop, grabbed Farrell’s bullet pass and dropped in his only bucket of the night.

He wasn’t done.

Just over a minute later, Geben was on the ground battling for a loose ball. Able to dig it out and call time out, he was lifted to his feet by his four teammates.

Geben grabbed two more offensive rebounds and blocked a shot before leaving for good with his fifth foul, but his damage had been done. The whole atmopshere in the arena had changed; so did the attitude on the Irish bench.

“Big night for him,” Brey said. “He deserves it. He was physically defending, rebounding for us. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do this year.”

Geben finished with a career-high nine rebounds. He played only eight minutes in the second half, but had seven rebounds.

“I just wanted to bring in extra energy,” he said. “I wanted to make my presence felt down low, get rebounds and help energize the team.”

That he did.

Beachem gets going

Senior captain V.J. Beachem drifted through much of Tuesday’s game having made little difference on the offensive end.

Once he got going, so did the Irish.

Beachem scored 11 of his 16 points in a 4:43 second-half stretch. That included eight quick ones to help the Irish double their lead from six to 12 points.

What changed?

“I just tried to stick with it, keep trusting the offenses, keep trusting the flow and not force things,” Beachem said. “Hopefully, I can find it a little earlier.”

It was hard for Beachem (5-for-10 from field) to get many clean looks. When Geben went out with his second foul less than three minutes in, Beachem lost his main screen-setter. Unofficially, Beachem worked off only one screen in the first half and four in the game.

“I need to do a better job getting him open and making sure our big guys are screening off the ball,” Brey said. “He was poised and hung in there and didn’t force stuff and then all of a sudden, was able to really deliver.”

Following his second 3 with 7:59 remaining, Beachem turned to the Irish bench, pounded his chest and barked about getting him the ball. Brey listened.

“He showed great emotion down the stretch,” he said. ‘“We are going to get you the ball. Absolutely. I feel you.’”

Ridiculous run

The Irish continue to be scary efficient and scary good from the free throw line.

Ranked second in the nation and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference at 84.5 percent (125-for-148), Notre Dame went 30-of-33 (90.9 percent) against Iowa.

Colson led the way by going 12-of-12. A career 78.5 shooter, he’s at 90.9 percent (40-of-44) seven games in.

“As a team, our confidence level is really high,” he said. “Just focusing, lock in and understand, free throws, you’ve been shooting them your whole life.

“Knock them down and just stay focused.”

That focus has been there much of the season, whether going 26-of-29 in the opener against Bryant, 27-of-29, including 14-for-14 the final 1:33 against Colorado and making another 30 with only three misses Tuesday.

“We definitely pride ourselves on free throws,” said senior captain Steve Vasturia, who went 7-for-7, including 6-for-6 the final 2:50. “We’ve seen what kind of weapon it’s been for us.”

Three Irish rank in the league’s top four in foul shooting. Farrell is first at 100 percent (19-of-19). Vasturia is second at 95.2 (20-of-21) and Colson fourth.

Conference call

Notre Dame owns the Big Ten.

At least in the last three seasons.

Tuesday’s win over Iowa marked the fourth straight win over the conference. Since 2014-15, Notre Dame has won eight of nine against the Big Ten.

The wins have come in six buildings – Purcell Pavilion (Michigan State, 2014; Iowa, 2016), Barclays Center (Northwestern, 2016; Michigan, 2016), Wells Fargo Center (Wisconsin, 2016), HP Pavilion (Iowa, 2015), State Farm Center (Illinois, 2015) and Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Purdue, 2014).

“We should have joined that league, Jack; can we?” Brey wondered to athletic director Jack Swarbrick during Tuesday’s post-game press conference. “No, no. We’re staying right here (in the ACC).”

The loss – to Indiana in last year’s Crossroads Classic – saw the Irish let a 16-point lead get away with 16 minutes left in the second half.

“We’ve been good against (the Big Ten),” Brey said. “I hope we’ve got one more in us down there in Indy.”

Notre Dame wraps the Big Ten portion of its non-league schedule on Dec. 17 against No. 15 Purdue in the annual Crossroads Classic.