Notes: Freshman T.J. Gibbs a confident contributor for Notre Dame men's basketball team
At a point in the college calendar when most freshmen run face first into the fatigue wall, Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs is having a ball.
It’s been a heck of a recent run for the freshman. In Saturday’s win at Virginia Tech, Gibbs came off the bench to score a career-high 13 points. That included a key basket in a late 6-0 spurt to put away Atlantic Coast Conference road win No. 3.
While some freshmen might be feeling a whole lot sluggish in a season that started in mid-October, Gibbs seemingly is getting stronger, and finding even more of a flow within the Irish system. He’s feeling more at home with each conference contest.
On Wednesday, in a three-point loss at No. 10 Florida State, Gibbs scored 12 points in a career-high 25 minutes.
“I like it,” he said before Thursday’s practice. “It’s just a different dynamic of getting more minutes, but also trying to be more productive in the time I do get.”
Against Florida State, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gibbs scored 11 points in a first half that saw the Irish in desperate need of someone, anyone, who could deliver something scoring-wise.
Gibbs was the guy.
“He was huge,” senior guard and fellow New Jersey native Steve Vasturia said of Gibbs. “He really kept us in the game in the first half when not many of us were doing anything.”
Gibbs did it against arguably the longest and toughest and most physical group of defenders will face in conference play. Gibbs had two turnovers against the Seminoles’ pressure, which took a few possessions to adjust to and understand how to handle.
He felt all 25 of those heavy minutes afterward.
“It was a real physical game,” he said. “They did a good job of pressuring us all the way out (toward halfcourt). It was definitely different.”
As it got deeper into the game, Irish coach Mike Brey decided that Gibbs needed to be on the floor alongside fellow point guard Matt Farrell. Had to be. He played more minutes than starter Martinas Geben (15) and sixth man Rex Pflueger (10).
Able to operate in a close game in another tough environment deepened the confidence Gibbs has about his game. He was a big part of everything before the Irish headed into their now-completed three-game road gauntlet. He’s a bigger part of it as No. 15 Notre Dame (16-3; 5-1 ACC) returns home for Saturday’s sold-out game against Syracuse.
“I’m definitely starting to feel it more and get more adjusted to the college game,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay in the swing of things and keep it going.”
It’s going. Overall, Gibbs is averaging 5.6 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 14.6 minutes. In the first six league games, he’s at 6.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” Vasturia said. “He’s a huge piece for us.”
It wasn’t on the grease board in the Irish locker room as a must-hit talking point during media access Thursday afternoon, but to a man, almost every player who stopped to meet the press before taking the floor all touched on the same topic.
Specifically, the Wilson leather ball long used and preferred by Notre Dame.
Every ACC team can play with its preferred brand. Miami uses an adidas model. Virginia Tech and Florida State both like Nike. Few Irish would say the same.
The Irish are glad to be off the road, if for no other reason than to finally be back with their Wilsons.
“Playing with all these balls is kind of tricky,” said senior swingman V.J. Beachem. “Just being back at home and playing with the Wilson ball, that’s a good feeling.”
“It’s got better grip,” he said. “That’s the one we play with all the time. We love it.”
It’s also the one brand utilized for the NCAA tournament, where Notre Dame has won six games the previous two years. Coincidence?
Notre Dame made 15 shots from 3-point range in Wednesday’s three-point loss. The Irish finished 15-of-21 behind the arc, good for a sizzling 71.4 percent.
It was the second-highest percentage from 3 during the Brey era. Notre Dame shot 72.7 percent (16-of-22) from 3 in a victory over Loyola (Ill.) during Brey’s first season in 2000-01.
The Irish were 12-of-37 (32.4 percent) inside the 3-point arc. A lot of that had to do with Florida State’s defense, which smothered everything near the rim.
“It was a different kind of game,” Vasturia said. “In the first half, we were never in any rhythm offensively.”
The Irish then found it in the second half. They scored 47 points and shot 75 percent (9-of-12) from 3.
“We knocked down some big shots,” Vasturia said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
It’s the fourth time this season that the Irish have connected on at least 15 3-pointers. Notre Dame’s season high is 19 set against North Carolina A&T, one shy of tying the school record.
• Notre Dame went 31 days between losses. Prior to Wednesday, the Irish had not lost since the Dec. 17 setback to No. 21 Purdue in the Crossroads Classic.
• Wednesday’s loss dropped the Irish from sole possession of first place into a three-way tie with Florida State and North Carolina, both of whom would have the tie-breaker over Notre Dame if the season ended today.
• Despite connecting on only 65 and 73.3 percent of its free throws the last two league games, Notre Dame continues to lead the nation in foul shooting at 82.4 percent. In six conference games, the Irish rank third in the ACC at 76.7 percent. The top foul shooting team in the conference? Syracuse at 81.9.
• A season-high 18 turnovers against Florida State saw Notre Dame slip from first to second in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (1.77). UCLA took over the top spot (1.83) heading into its late Thursday home game against Arizona State.
• The Irish music of choice bouncing out of a courtside portable speaker prior to practices is usually hip-hop. On Thursday, it was “Born to Run,” from one of Brey’s favorites, Bruce Springsteen.
• The Irish enter the weekend with a 17 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and a 37 Strength of Schedule (S0S) according to the latest numbers by ESPN.com. Notre Dame also has the best road/neutral site RPI – 1.
• ESPN’s latest way-too-early Bracketology has Notre Dame opening the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed in Orlando, Fla., against No. 13 Monmouth.
• Thursday was the 43rd anniversary of Notre Dame’s historic 71-70 home victory over UCLA, which snapped the Bruins’ 88-game win streak. Former Irish coach Digger Phelps talked Thursday by phone with former standouts Dwight Clay, who hit the decisive corner jumper, Ray “Dice” Martin and John Shumate all before noon.
• Saturday’s game will be the second sellout of the season for the Irish, who are 11-0 at home, 2-0 in league play.
• Brey announced on his radio show Thursday that senior Austin Torres will return for a fifth year in 2017-18. Torres has an additional year of eligibility after sitting out his first season.