Noie: T.J. Gibbs gets Notre Dame going in season-opening win over DePaul

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHICAGO – Log all but 120 seconds of a college basketball game at any point last season and everything from his nose to his toes would have ached for Notre Dame sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs.

He might have had to shut it all down for days to let everything again feel right. Not anymore. Normal now is a new jersey number, a new physique and a new starting role, a big one that requires him to play major minutes.

And right from the jump.

Now in better shape with a better understanding of how to pace himself for longer stretches, Gibbs is prepared to play longer minutes and play better than he did last season. Having shed 17 pounds in the offseason, he couldn’t wait to show it off, first in preseason and then when it mattered.

It mattered Saturday in the season opener against DePaul for No. 14 Notre Dame and Gibbs got after it.

Got after it good. Really good.

Gibbs scored a game-high 21 points in 38 minutes, both career bests, as a veteran Irish outfit shrugged off a sluggish first half and rolled to a 72-58 victory in the first-ever college basketball game at Wintrust Arena.

“It felt good, felt great to be out there,” Gibbs said. "Let's go another 40."

Of the five Irish starters, four logged at least 38 minutes, much of that out of necessity. Senior power forward Bonzie Colson, who delivered another double double with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes.

Next to Gibbs in a back arena hallway, fellow New Jersey native and Irish guard Matt Farrell couldn’t have been happier. Well, until he spied his stat line that included four turnovers against constant pressure. But to see Gibbs do what he did, Farrell felt really good.

Those Jersey guards are good.

“I told you; that’s what I’ve been telling everybody,” said Farrell, who scored 15 points on five 3s. “I’m more excited to play with this guy (gesturing to Gibbs). Awesome. He played unbelievably for us.”

What had been expected to be a one-sided contest really wasn’t one in the first half. That’s when Irish coach Mike Brey experimented with a deeper rotation. He called on junior power forward Elijah Burns, sophomore John Mooney and freshman D.J. Harvey. The Irish led by four at the break.

In the second half, only Harvey saw meaningful minutes. Big minutes. He delivered seven points and three rebounds.

That’s the way it is.

“An older group that has won together showed up the last 10 minutes of the game,” said Brey, now 11 wins away from becoming the all-time winningest coach in program history. “When it’s time to go for the jugular, it’s funny how that bench shortens.”

The final score really wasn’t that close, not after Gibbs got going after halftime, and the rest of the Irish followed that lead. While Gibbs went for 12 points – all on 3-pointers – in the final 20 minutes, the Irish finally kicked their perimeter game into gear. That led to 43 points, 56 percent shooting and 75 percent from 3 in the second half,

Notre Dame finished 12-of-27 from 3, including 9-of-12 in the second half, at one point, the visitors connected on eight-straight from the arc.

It was a just a matter of time for a team that had gone 14-for-64 from distance in its three exhibition games.

“We knew it was coming,” Gibbs said. “We trust each other. We know that shots are going to come and we’re going to knock them down.

“It’s just about winning.”

Gibbs had the determined stare, the confident nod and gum chewing faster and faster all working Saturday. The Irish were good, in part because No. 10 was.

“Big,” Brey said. “He’s been great in practice. He stats out right behind Bonzie a lot of times. He’s a fearless guy. You give him extended minutes, I thought it would come around.”

Less than five minutes into the second half, DePaul had Notre Dame on its collective heels, scrambling, wondering, maybe even searching for that gear it would eventually get to. But the Demons helped them get there.

In a one-point game, DePaul was poised to take its first lead following a Devin Gage steal. Instead of going in for a layup, Gage opted for a lob dunk – seriously? – to Max Strus. On a 2-on-0 break.


The play would have ignited an indifferent arena, except Strus missed the dunk, then was promptly pegged for a turnover for hanging on the rim. A pair of corner 3s from Gibbs and Farrell bumped the Irish lead back to seven.

The Irish never did trail.

And that’s why DePaul is DePaul, a team that hasn’t won more than 12 games in any of the last five years, a team that continues to take step after step away from a once-proud past. The school’s all-time leading scorer, Mark Aguirre, brought the ceremonial game ball to center court prior to tip. The Demons could have used him and Terry Cummings and Clyde Bradshaw and all the other guys that once made this the premier program in the state.

Strus was amazing to watch in warmups, when he ripped off eight, nine, 10 straight shots without a miss from 3. Different story when he had the hand of Rex Pflueger in his face. He opened by missing eight of his first nine shots. He never was a factor while trying to figure out Pflueger, who grabbed a career-best nine rebounds.

Ugly may be too kind a word to describe the season’s first half for Notre Dame, which couldn’t make shots, either from close in or from distance (again) and let an inferior opponent hang around way longer than expected.

But when it was time to go take the game, they took it.

“There’s a mental toughness and a belief about this nucleus that they’re going to find a way to do it,” Brey said

This was one that Notre Dame wanted, in part so the Irish could find out about themselves. Not only did the Irish get a win, they got a clue about what the coming days and weeks and months will hold. This is a good group. A together group. It didn’t come easily Saturday, but that was OK. Once the Irish adjusted to that after the first half, they got everything in gear, got the win and got on the bus for the ride back to Indiana.

“We have a lot of different options,” Colson said. “We had that ‘road dawg’ mentality still, digging in and fighting through when the other team goes on that run.

“When we have a group that can do that, we can be special.”

DePaul's Eli Cain (11) battles Notre Dame's T.J.  Gibbs (10) for a rebound Saturday in Chicago. Notre Dame won 72-58. (AP Photo/PAUL BEATY)


At Chicago

NOTRE DAME (72): Bonzie Colson 6-14 6-9 18, Martinas Geben 2-4 1-2 5, T.J. Gibbs 7-11 3-4 21, Rex Pflueger 1-6 0-0 3, Matt Farrell 5-11 0-1 15, Elijah Burns 0-1 0-0 0, John Mooney 1-2 0-0 3, D.J. Harvey 3-4 0-0 7. Totals 25-53 10-16 72.

DEPAUL (58): Tre'Darius McCallum 6-9 0-0 14, Marin Maric 1-8 1-1 3, Max Strus 3-12 2-3 11, Eli Cain 7-17 0-2 14, Devin Gage 3-10 4-6 10, Peter Ryckbosch 1-1 0-0 2, Joe Hanel 0-0 0-0 0, Paul Reed 0-0 0-0 0, Jaylen Butz 0-1 2-4 2, Justin Roberts 0-2 0-0 0, Austin Grandstaff 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon Cyrus 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 22-65 9-16 58.

Halftime--Notre Dame 29-25. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 12-27 (Farrell 5-9, Gibbs 4-7, Harvey 1-1, Mooney 1-2, Pflueger 1-5, Colson 0-3), DePaul 5-22 (Strus 3-11, McCallum 2-4, Roberts 0-1, Grandstaff 0-1, Cain 0-2, Cyrus 0-3). Fouled Out--McCallum. Rebounds--Notre Dame 37 (Colson 13), DePaul 31 (McCallum 6). Assists--Notre Dame 10 (Colson 5), DePaul 9 (Cain 3). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, DePaul 13. Technicals--Gibbs, Colson, Cyrus, McCallum.