Notre Dame handles Howard in men's hoops home game

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Sneaking his way down the baseline during a fast break early in Tuesday’s second half, Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger made eye contact with backcourt mate T.J. Gibbs and pointed to the rim with his right index finger.

The message? Throw an alley-oop pass, which Pflueger, less than a year removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, figured he’d flush. That surely would get the fans out of their seats.

Gibbs played it safe and kept his dribble, which kept Pflueger on the ground and the fans watching quietly. Highlight plays such as that possible lob dunk were few against Howard. They simply weren’t needed as Notre Dame methodically took care of business, winning 79-50, in the second game of the Men Against Breast Cancer Invitational at Purcell Pavilion.

Irish power forward John Mooney played like one of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The first team all-league preseason pick had 18 points and 16 rebounds. He also tied his career high with five assists.

None of those numbers meant that much.

“I like getting the win, man,” Mooney said with a smile. “That’s the bottom line.”

So is getting a lot of guys involved, as was again the case Tuesday. Juwan Durham had 11 points and five rebounds, Dane Goodwin added 11 and Pflueger scored 10 points with five rebounds and two assists.

“When you multiple guys in double figures, multiple guys playing well, it’s certainly hard for other teams to scout,” Mooney said.

Tuesday marked the first time since early last season (late December) that Notre Dame won consecutive home games. The Irish were coming off Saturday’s 35-point victory over Robert Morris. Notre Dame lost eight home games last season.

For the second straight home game, the Irish never trailed. Nor were they seriously challenged. Notre Dame led by as many as 34.

“It’s a team you should beat and handle,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I’m glad we did that. Hopefully we can do that the rest of the month.”

The Irish missed their first five shots before a two-hand Durham dunk off a quick-fire feed from Pflueger. Notre Dame didn’t let that affect its defensive focus. The Irish forced a pair shot-clock violations in the first two-plus minutes. The Bison missed their first five shots and went scoreless the first 5:43.

Notre Dame just kind of played to build a quick lead that ballooned toward 20 points before intermission. The Irish didn’t necessarily shoot it that well, especially from 3 (3-of-12), but made the most of their high-percentage looks, got some stops, got out in transition and converted. They mixed in some zone with man defense, played a lot of guys and pulled away.

A Goodwin drive pushed the Irish advantage into double figures for the first time (19-9). Goodwin’s wing 3 late in the half then pushed it over 20 for the first time (37-16). The Irish were a collective 1-of-10 from 3 before Goodwin’s bucket.

Mooney was halfway to his second double double of the season and 23rd of his career at halftime with a game-high 10 rebounds. He was a key reason why the Irish held a 27-14 rebounding advantage at the break. The Irish assisted on 13 of their 17 first-half buckets.

Notre Dame’s 20-point lead at half (41-21) was enough for former Irish coach Digger Phelps to call it a night. He collected a couple stat sheets and a bottle of water from his second-row seat in what used to be press row and headed for home.

Brey’s connections to the Howard coaching staff touched almost every level of his career. The Bison are coached by Kenny Blakeney, who attended the same high school as Brey (DeMatha Catholic) and was recruited to Duke by the Irish coach.

“He hasn’t changed,” said Blakeney, who was 13 when he first met Brey back in D.C. “He’s still the same guy, God bless him.”

Also on the Bison bench Tuesday was former Irish point guard Eric Atkins, in his first season as a college assistant coach after spending the previous three seasons as the Notre Dame video coordinator.

“I’m very proud of those two guys,” Brey said. “It’s neat to see them.”

Back in the building Tuesday and sitting in the first row behind the home bench was former Irish guard Chris Thomas, still the only player in school history with a triple double. Thomas did it (for points, assists and steals) in his first collegiate game.

Former Irish power forward Tom Knight was spotted at halftime, wandering the second floor of the arena in search of a men’s room. True story.

Notre Dame is expected to add two high school senior power forwards when the early signing period commences Wednesday in Elijah Taylor (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) from Philadelphia and Matt Zona (6-8, 225) from Rockland County, N.Y. Both made official visits in September. Notre Dame may add a third power forward to the class in DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School senior Hunter Dickinson, who eventually will likely choose between Michigan and Notre Dame. The four-star Dickinson, the nation’s No. 34 prospect, does not have a decision timetable.

HOWARD (50): Cousins 1-5 0-0 2, Toure 4-11 0-0 9, Robinson 1-6 0-0 3, Foster 2-8 0-0 6, Williams 2-9 2-5 7, Barber 1-2 0-0 2, Anosike 0-0 0-0 0, Lee 0-1 0-0 0, Richardson 0-0 0-0 0, Bristol 5-9 2-2 14, G.Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Bethea 1-4 0-0 2, Garvey 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 19-61 4-7 50.<

NOTRE DAME (79): Durham 5-6 1-2 11, Mooney 8-16 0-0 18, Gibbs 1-6 1-2 3, Pflueger 3-6 3-3 10, Hubb 4-9 0-0 9, Doherty 1-1 0-0 2, Laszewski 3-7 0-1 7, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0, Carmody 3-5 2-3 8, Goodwin 4-7 2-2 11. Totals 32-63 9-13 79.<

Halftime—Notre Dame 41-21. 3-Point Goals—Howard 8-26 (Bristol 2-3, Foster 2-5, Toure 1-3, Garvey 1-4, Robinson 1-5, Williams 1-5, Bethea 0-1), Notre Dame 6-23 (Mooney 2-5, Goodwin 1-2, Pflueger 1-3, Hubb 1-3, Laszewski 1-4, Carmody 0-1, Gibbs 0-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Howard 29 (Cousins, Toure 5), Notre Dame 40 (Mooney 16). Assists—Howard 16 (Lee 6), Notre Dame 22 (Mooney 5). Total Fouls—Howard 13, Notre Dame 11.

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Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs (10) is fouled as Howard’s Ian Lee (33) and Charles Williams (13) follow him to the basket Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind.