Notre Dame does it with defense to escape with exhibition win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It remains such a grind when it comes to consistent shot-making and scoring for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

That might mean trouble down the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but on Friday, it still was good enough.

Barely. But that’s OK for this team at this time. Shots aren’t falling? Points aren’t piling up? Get back, get in a stance and guard. They’re now the defending Irish.

Prentiss Hubb scored 17 points with eight assists and John Mooney added 15 points and 11 rebounds to help Notre Dame escape with a 61-51 exhibition victory over Bellarmine. A Rex Pflueger steal and layup with less than a minute remaining helped ice this one.

“That won us the game,” Mooney said. “Being able to lock in and hold them to 51 points, that says something.”

Bellarmine scored 65 earlier in the week against No. 5 Louisville. On Friday, the Knights shot 37.3 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from 3 and led only once for 55 seconds.

“Defensively, we have a chance to be special,” Mooney said.

The Irish led by as many as 13 early in the second half before the Knights started cutting into it by making open shots, making hard cuts, moving the ball and making shots. It got to be a game again, a two-possession game. Nate Laszewski put an end to that run with a 3 back from a timeout to put the Irish back up nine.

The Knights climbed back within six with under six minutes remaining. Pflueger checked back in, in part, maybe in big part, to help the Irish hold off the visitors. Pflueger already had played 15 minutes — one more than the previous game — before checking back in. He just had to be on the floor.

“Does he just make winning plays or what?” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “When there’s a loose ball or a play to be made on your defensive end, I got chills watching him. Like, there it is. He gets the steal that just ends it.”

An Alex Cook layup brought Bellarmine back within three points with three minutes remaining. That happened because the Irish had gone over three minutes without a bucket. There was some real game pressure on the home team.

“We,” Brey said, “needed to have our butts on the line.”

Shot making and scoring remain an issue for Notre Dame, which struggled in both areas for extended stretches last season. Notre Dame connected on 34.9 percent of its shots, 25.8 percent from 3. A good portion of those were open shots, shots that have to fall for Notre Dame to have any chance of improving on last season’s 3-15 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We were getting good looks,” Mooney said. “When we get open looks, we’re confident we’re going to knock them down. The law of averages is in our favor. It’s just a matter of staying confident and keep shooting.”

Notre Dame averaged 66.5 points in its two exhibitions. It averaged 68.7 a game last season. The Irish didn’t get past 50 points Friday until 6:11 remained. Some nights not long ago, the Irish could get to 50 in a half.

Bellarmine came to town ranked among the top seven Division II teams in three different national polls. The Knights have been ranked as high as No. 2. They lost by 10 points to No. 5 Louisville earlier in the week. Bellarmine makes the jump to Division I next year.

Brey is 60-0 in exhibition games as Irish coach.

The Knights were all aggressiveness and energy right from the start, which was good for the home team. Notre Dame had to match that intensity right from the stat. Like, this wasn’t your run of the mill exhibition game. Even Brey was animated on the sideline after made baskets, demanding his team move their feet, guard and get another stop. One or two in a row wasn’t going to be good enough. When they got three, the head coach was the first out onto the floor to show his satisfaction with a clap of his hands.

Back in the starting lineup for a second time this week after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury, Pflueger gave the Irish a 7-0 lead with his first shot attempt — a 3-pointer. Pflueger went scoreless in 14 minutes the first time out.

The Irish hit four of their first six shots to jump to a 10-2 lead by the first media timeout. Notre Dame forced three turnovers in the first five minutes.

A Dylan Penn drive pushed Bellarmine in front for the first time at 19-18.

Friday was the final dress rehearsal for Notre Dame before the regular season gets going next week. The Irish treated the exhibition like a real game. The coaching staff ditched their sweatsuit/practice gear look from the previous game for the standard coats and ties (minus Brey’s neck wear of course). The game also featured the band and the cheerleaders and, just like early in the season, empty seats.

Brey even worked his rotation as if it were a regular-season game. After using all available scholarship players and nine different rotations in the first half Tuesday, he trimmed it to seven different combinations on Friday. Four of the five starters each played at least 14 minutes. Sophomore power forward Chris Doherty, who missed Tuesday’s game after recently having his four wisdom teeth removed, did not play Friday.


At Purcell Pavilion

BELLARMINE (51): Ethan Claycomb 11; Chris Palombizio 3; Juston Betz 0; Parker Chitty 3; Pedro Bradshaw 3; Ben Weyer 3; Alex Cook 6; Dylan Penn 10; CJ Fleming 8; Cobe Penny 4. TOTALS: 19 8-10 51.

NOTRE DAME (61): Juwan Durham 9; John Mooney 15; Rex Pflueger 5; Prentiss Hubb 18; T.J. Gibbs 3; Nate Laszewski 5; Dane Goodwin 4; Robby Carmody 2; Nik Djogo 0. TOTALS: 22 9-15 61.

Halftime score: Notre Dame 30, Bellarmine 21.

Field goal shooting: Bellarmine 19-for-51 (37.3 percent); Notre Dame 22-for-63 (34.9). 3-point field goals: Bellarmine 5 (Claycomb 2, Palombizio, Weyer, Chitty); Notre Dame 8 (Hubb 5, Pflueger, Gibbs, Laszewski). Rebounds: Bellarmine 37 (Claycomb 9); Notre Dame 44 (Durham 13). Assists: Bellarmine 12 (Cook 3, Penn 3); Notre Dame 15 (Hubb 8). Total fouls (fouled out): Bellarmine 18 (none); Notre Dame 13 (none). Turnovers: Bellarmine 12 (Claycomb 3); Notre Dame 8 (Mooney 2, Gibbs 2). Attendance: 6,235.

Notre Dame power forward John Mooney played like a first team all-league pick during the two Irish exhibition games.