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John Mooney makes sure Notre Dame masters Marshall in men's hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Given the game he had just played, Notre Dame senior power forward John Mooney needed a quick stop at the locker room lounge refrigerator for a cold bottle of something.

His drink of choice was water. He could have used more than just one bottle — like maybe a case — after what he’d just done in scoring and leading and rebounding and, much like last season, carrying Notre Dame for the better part of 40 minutes.

Mooney scored a career-high 28 points with a game-high 16 rebounds for his third straight double double and 24th of his career in a 74-64 victory over Marshall. Afterward, he admitted that yeah, he was tired. But, stats and fatigue aside, pleased with the outcome.

“I’m just happy we got the win, man,” Mooney said. “We got some game pressure on us and had to make winning plays.”

And play with some passion. Some emotion. Mooney rarely showed that side of himself last year. Not Friday. He was waving his arms at the crowd, active and aggressive with his play. It was different. It was needed. His teammates seemed to follow that lead.

“It’s something I still have to work on, being a little more vocal,” Mooney said. “I had to do it tonight a little bit.”

Like with everything else, Mooney did it.

“We’re riding him so hard,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “He’s fabulous, man. He’s just a man. The physical display of doing that over 34 minutes, it’s really amazing.”

It was a two-possession game (Irish were up six) with 2:33 remaining. A Dane Goodwin bucket stretched it to eight, but the Herd kept coming.

“We’re all right!” Brey bellowed from the bench.

Turns out they were. Barely.

“I never thought it was going to be easy against those guys,” Brey said. “I love that we figured out a way to escape, man. That’s how we’re going to have to play.”

T.J. Gibbs added 15 points and Goodwin 11. It wasn’t pretty, but last year, Gibbs admitted, they probably lose this game.

“We’re more mature,” Gibbs said. “Last year, we were immature closing out games. If they made a run, we’d get down a little bit. This year, they make a run, we’ve got to respond. We’ve figured out we can do it. We believe in each other.”

Mooney scored the first five Irish points to start the second half, which helped keep their lead in double digits. It got back up to 13 before a 10-0 Marshall run sliced it to five, 49-46, with 10:37 left. Brey burned a timeout to get the Irish back on track. For as well as they’d flowed the previous two games, ball movement and player movement was difficult. Brey kept pleading with his guys to cut, cut, cut on the offensive end, but received minimal return.

At one point, Notre Dame missed 13 of 14 shots before getting an easy one off a drive from Goodwin. Its best offense for stretches was just giving it to Mooney. His 3 stretched the Irish lead back to six with 9:44 left. Goodwin then somehow got an off-balance lefty layup to fall while being fouled. His free throw made it 57-50 with 8:19 remaining.

But when the Irish needed anything, they looked to Mooney. He often delivered. He had to. Without him, this goes down as a really bad loss for a team that needs everything to go right this season — especially at home. Especially against opponents picked to finish 11th in the 14th team Conference USA.

Friday marked the third home game of the season for the Irish (3-1), and the third home game where they’ve never trailed for even a second. It’s been that one sided.

Down by as many as 17 in the first half, Marshall battled back to get within four thanks to a 19-6 run. A lot of it was being more active on the offensive end, but Notre Dame helped with quick/bad shots on its end. The Herd just hustled their way back into what seemed headed for a one-sided contest.

“Maybe in the first half we kind of eased up a little bit,” Mooney said. “That starts with me. It’s about regrouping and getting your guys back.”

Dusting off (bad) memories of last season, Notre Dame went scoreless for over four minutes and missed nine straight shots before a Mooney leaner in the lane pushed the Irish up 33-27. That helped the Irish weather a 2-for-13 shot stretch. Notre Dame withstood that late Marshall run well enough to still lead by 11, 40-29, at halftime. Through all that, the Irish were one point shy of tying their (early) season high for points in the first half.

Everything was working early on the offensive end for the Irish. A pair of deep 3s from Gibbs? Yep. A reverse layup from Juwan Durham? That will do. A Mooney leaning/off-balance runner through the lane? Why not? And when Prentiss Hubb knifed through seemingly the entire Herd defense for a layup in heavy traffic, the Irish had opened an early double-digit lead (17-6) after connecting on six straight shots.

“We had a good start,” Mooney said. “We were flowing, hitting shots, but slowed down a little bit.”

Slowed down a lot. As hot of a start as it was, the Irish went stagnant on that end. Part of it might have had to do with better defense, or Brey dipping deep into his bench. Whatever it was, it worked.

“Let’s just move, baby,” Brey barked from the bench. “Let’s just move.”

Or drive it. Plenty of lanes to get to the rim were open, as evidenced of Nik Djogo starting his drive from somewhere around Elkhart, then almost finishing with a two-handed dunk in traffic. It missed, but was impressive nonetheless. Hubb continued to probe and find driving/finishing lanes, which helped when the offense sputtered.

Gibbs connected on a third deep 3 to give him a quick nine points and stretch the Irish advantage to 17 at the under-12 media timeout.

Durham switched out of his usual No. 11 jersey for No. 25 — with no name on the back — early in the first half, likely because of blood on the old tank top. Sophomore guard Robby Carmody checked in early in the first half, then departed 13 seconds later after taking a shot to the right side of his body by a Herd defender. Carmody was examined by the Irish medical staff and checked back in for a minute. He played three in the first half.

Fans offered a smattering of boos in the second half when the arena cameras showed NBC football analyst Doug Flutie seated in the front row of the baseline.

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• NOTRE DAME 74. MARSHALL 64

At Purcell Pavilion

MARSHALL (1-2): J.Williams 2-8 2-2 6, Bennett 5-13 0-1 10, Beyers 0-1 0-0 0, West 5-12 2-3 14, Kinsey 7-13 2-4 16, George 1-1 0-0 2, Brooks-Harris 3-8 0-0 7, Miladinovic 1-4 0-0 2, Sarenac 2-5 2-3 7. Totals 26-65 8-13 64.

NOTRE DAME (3-1): Durham 3-6 2-2 8, Mooney 9-23 7-12 28, Pflueger 2-8 0-0 5, Hubb 2-8 0-0 4, Gibbs 4-19 4-4 15, Laszewski 0-2 2-2 2, Doherty 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Carmody 0-0 1-2 1, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0, Goodwin 4-9 3-4 11. Totals 24-76 19-26 74.

Halftime—Notre Dame 40-29. 3-Point Goals—Marshall 4-22 (West 2-7, Sarenac 1-3, Brooks-Harris 1-6, Beyers 0-1, J.Williams 0-5), Notre Dame 7-28 (Mooney 3-8, Gibbs 3-8, Pflueger 1-5, Laszewski 0-1, Goodwin 0-2, Hubb 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Marshall 40 (Kinsey 11), Notre Dame 50 (Mooney 16). Assists—Marshall 11 (Kinsey 5), Notre Dame 12 (Hubb 4). Total Fouls—Marshall 17, Notre Dame 10.

Notre Dame’s John Mooney, shown last Tuesday against Howard, had a career-high 28 points against Marshall on Friday night.