New-look Irish return home, bounce Bearcats
SOUTH BEND — Never mind that it was game No. 11 on the schedule in a season that started over a month ago.
In many ways, Tuesday was like starting all over for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team without injured captain Rex Pflueger.
With Pflueger on the bench in street clothes, a bulky brace over his left knee and a white fanny pack around his waist, an Irish offense that looked so smooth and fluid and focused the previous game with the senior facilitating it was anything but back at Purcell Pavilion against Binghamton.
The Irish (8-3) needed the first half to shake the effects of losing Pflueger for the season before finding their offensive flow and leading by as many as 18 in a 69-56 victory.
“We were kind of a work in progress kind of throughout the whole night,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I was very worried about it. Not shocked at all that we were laboring at times.”
Junior power forward Juwan Durham registered the first double double of his career with 16 points and 12 rebounds and T.J. Gibbs also had 16 points.
“He saved our butts tonight,” Brey said of Durham. “We couldn’t make the first shot all night. Thank God he got some second shots for us, made some plays for us.”
Irish freshman guard Dane Goodwin made his first career start Tuesday in place of Pflueger. Coming off his best game of points (11) and minutes (25), Goodwin scored eight points with a career-high six rebounds in a career-high 36 minutes.
“For Dane Goodwin, to play a long time now as the third guard now, that’s kind of a work in progress,” Brey said. “Kind of evaluating that on the fly.”
Really, everything is when you subtract Pflueger, the team’s leader in assists and defending the other team’s top perimeter player and talking and leading. He stuck his nose in some huddles during timeouts, but not having him on the floor changes it. Changes everything.
“It was a little different,” Brey said of the lineups without Pflueger. “It was interesting to watch the group dynamic without that personality and that is what is new for us.”
Notre Dame’s effort the first four minutes looked a whole lot like the one it offered for long stretches against UCLA (not good) and nothing like the one it delivered Saturday against Purdue (really good).
The Irish committed three turnovers and missed four shots to fall into a 7-0 hole before a T.J. Gibbs 3. Brey even went to the bench early — really early — getting Nate Laszewski in for D.J. Harvey before the first media timeout. It’s rare for Brey to substitute that early, but he saw something he didn’t like only three minutes in. From Harvey. Really, from everyone.
It took Notre Dame nearly half the first half to get to 10 points. Binghamton then followed with its own struggles in the second half, when it needed nearly the first 10 minutes to score 10 points. Notre Dame finished the first half with 25, the second lowest this season, and led by four.
The five Irish starters combined to shoot 3-of-24 from the floor in the first half. Harvey missed his first eight shots before getting a point-blank layup to drop in the opening minutes of the second half. That was part of a 6-0 spurt that opened the Irish lead to eight. A Mooney jumper from the top of the key pushed it to 10. A Harvey jumper from nearly the same spot put the Irish up 12. A Durham rebound follow capped a 12-0 Irish run and made it 37-23.
The second half saw Brey go to more of a big lineup, pairing Durham and Mooney for stretches. It was different from the perimeter-heavy looks the Irish have often fielded. But it was effective. Durham and Mooney carved enough space around the rim and in the paint for both to work.
Mooney added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“Our big guys saved us tonight,” Brey said.
After starting 12-of-15 from the floor Saturday against Purdue, Notre Dame started 3-of-16 Tuesday against Binghamton’s 2/3 zone. It got to the point where the Irish couldn’t get any sort of flow offensively the first 12-plus minutes that Brey went with seldom-used junior Nik Djogo. He promptly made a corner 3 to tie it at 15. It was a much-needed hoop.
“That zone kind of packed in the paint; it was tough for us to get moving,” Mooney said. “It was just kind of stagnant at first. We made some adjustments, got moving. We got the ball to the high post more, it opened some stuff up.”
Opened up to the tune of 44 points in the second half.
Tuesday was the first time the Irish played at home in three weeks — and a whole lot has changed after three games — in three different parts of the country. All seemed well, other than the final outcomes, in losses to Oklahoma at Madison Square Garden and to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. The Irish were as whole as they had been all year in those games.
Then last weekend arrived, which changed the look of this roster for the rest of the season. And not in a good way.
During Saturday’s eight-point victory over Purdue at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, Notre Dame lost Pflueger for the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Pflueger was hurt late in Saturday’s second half; an MRI on Monday confirmed what was feared — his season and possibly his collegiate career is over.
Pflueger will have the option to return for a fifth year without having to petition the NCAA. But that decision is still months away. he’ll have surgery in January, start rehab, then think about his a future that would include a fifth year.
“He said, ‘Coach, I just need to think about that,’” Brey said. “I said, ‘I think we both need to think about that.’ Let’s evaluate how the year goes, what’s going on with our team, how do you really feel in March.
“We keep all options open.”
On Friday, freshman guard Robby Carmody announced that he would miss the remainder of the season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The losses leave the Irish with only eight available scholarship players. Both inured players will have surgeries in the near future.
Carmody actually practiced with the Irish on Monday, but is still expected to medically redshirt. He’s set for surgery on Dec. 27.
• NOTRE DAME 69, BINGHAMTON 56
At Purcell Pavilion
BINGHAMTON (3-9): Barnard 4-7 0-1 8, C.Stewart 2-10 0-0 5, Show 3-13 0-0 7, Sessoms 11-18 0-1 25, Davis 2-5 0-0 4, Poulina 0-0 0-0 0, Anyichie 0-0 0-0 0, Caldwell 3-7 0-0 7, Rose 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 0-2 56.
NOTRE DAME (8-3): Mooney 5-10 2-4 12, Gibbs 6-15 1-1 16, Hubb 0-6 0-1 0, Harvey 3-12 3-3 9, Goodwin 2-8 4-5 8, Laszewski 2-5 0-0 5, Durham 6-8 4-6 16, Djogo 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 25-65 14-20 69.
Halftime—Notre Dame 25-21. 3-Point Goals—Binghamton 6-28 (Sessoms 3-7, Caldwell 1-3, C.Stewart 1-7, Show 1-10, Davis 0-1), Notre Dame 5-21 (Gibbs 3-9, Djogo 1-1, Laszewski 1-3, Hubb 0-2, Harvey 0-3, Goodwin 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Binghamton 32 (Davis 9), Notre Dame 44 (Mooney, Durham 12). Assists—Binghamton 5 (Sessoms 3), Notre Dame 15 (Hubb 7). Total Fouls—Binghamton 20, Notre Dame 10. Technicals—Barnard, Gibbs. A—6,359 (9,149).