Nothing easy about Notre Dame home win over....Blue Hose

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Even with the team’s leading scorer and rebounder back in his apartment fighting a losing battle against the stomach flu, it wasn’t supposed to be this difficult for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

Not at Purcell Pavilion, where it finally had cornered some much needed confidence after losing eight games on its home floor last season. Not against a school in Presbyterian picked to finish second to last in the Big South.

Surely, somebody Monday would step in for senior power forward John Mooney and offer something of substance for the Irish.

Graduate guard Rex Pflueger delivered a season-high 13 points and Nate Laszewski added a season-high 11 as Notre Dame (4-1) ran its win streak to four with a 63-53 victory.

It wasn’t easy in any way.

“We miss John out there,” Pflueger said. “We were hoping he could play. We were confident in our guys to come out. We picked it up toward the end, especially with our defense.”

Juwan Durham added 11 points and a career-best 15 rebounds.

“I needed to get on the glass,” Durham said. “You can’t replace a guy like Mooney at all with the type of double doubles. Just be there defensively to help the team as much as possible.”

Notre Dame finally pushed its lead into double digits with 13:39 remaining in the second half when a Pflueger corner 3 in front of the Irish bench made it 48-37. Less than three minutes later, it was a two-possession game. Less than two minutes later, it was a one-possession game. Allowing the other team to get going (8-of-9) while doing so little (0-for-4, zero points for 2:44) will do that.

A Laszewski drive and dunk off a timeout bumped the Irish up four and seemingly got them back in the right direction. Laszewski followed with another slam — this one with two hands down the baseline — to make it a five-point game. And when Durham finished a Pflueger pass with a bucket, the Irish lead was back to seven, 57-50, with 6:39 left. Two Durham free throws and the lead was back to nine with 4:57.

It eventually jumped to 12. The Irish dug in and defended, but the Blue Hose seemingly just ran out of gas.

“With a group that’s growing and trying to get confident, you look for some thing s to hang our hat on,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “They cut it to two and I thought we could be in trouble. We executed and did some things. Guys had to make some more plays and they did.”

Situated in the last seat in the front row early Monday night, Mooney stayed silent and still. The rest of his teammates got loose with shots from various spots, but Mooney didn’t move. He didn’t feel well. At all.

“When I got the news at 9 a.m. on Johnny, I’m worried,” Brey said.

Honored earlier in the day as the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week after averaging 23 points and 16 rebounds, including a career high 28 Friday, Mooney really wanted to give it a go Monday, if even for a half. Instead, when the Irish went back to the locker room after their pre-game shooting routine, Mooney was sent home.

“He tried it,” Brey said. “He came in and said, ‘I’ve got nothing.’ I said, ‘Go home, just get out of here. I’ll call you later.’”

If it were the NBA, it would be classified as load management. Could Mooney, averaging 16.5 points and 12.5 rebounds, have played had this been an ACC game? Probably. But it wasn’t, so he didn’t. The Irish weren’t supposed to need him, but they did.

Monday marked the first time that Mooney has missed a college game because of illness/injury. Even when he rolled an ankle hours before a league game at North Carolina State two years ago, Mooney gutted his way through that one. But not Monday. It was the first game he didn’t play in since he logged a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in the NCAA tournament second round game against West Virginia.

Laszewski made his first start of the season in place of Mooney.

The Irish also were without sophomore guard Robby Carmody, who was rattled on a hard foul Friday against Marshall. Carmody played three minutes but didn’t return while being evaluated for a possible concussion. Brey said after that game that Carmody didn’t suffer a concussion, but he still was placed in concussion protocol and was not fully cleared to play Monday.

“He still was a little fuzzy,” Brey said.

Carmody and Mooney are expected back Thursday against Toledo.

The teams combined for one basket — from the Blue Hose — the first four-plus minutes of the second half. Notre Dame started 0-for-2 from the field, 0-for-2 from 3 and 0-for-2 from the foul line.

No Carmody and no Mooney meant the Irish dressed only eight available scholarship players. Two of the three available scholarship players — guards Nik Djogo and Dane Goodwin — checked in after the first media timeout.

Seven of the eight Irish scored at least three points in the first half. Only Chris Doherty didn’t play the opening 20 minutes.

One game after length and athleticism were an issue in a 10-point victory over Marshall, quickness and athleticism were a problem for Notre Dame. Presbyterian hustled its way back into the game after being down early and trailed by eight at intermission after a Gibbs 3 from somewhere near the Linebacker beat the halftime horn and capped a 14-3 Irish run over the final 5:21.

The Presbyterian bench made more noise than any fans in the stands early. They were all energy. The home crowd needed to play catch up. At times, so did the home team. No Mooney, no problem? Brey wasn’t buying it.

“We need everybody against everybody we play as we try to develop here and get confident,” he said. “We’ve done some things with game pressure on us this year that we weren’t able to do last year. I look at that as progress for us, and a little more belief.

“A little more of, we’re going to get over this hump.”

PRESBYTERIAN (1-3): Hightower 6-13 2-4 15, Drake 5-11 0-0 11, Younger 1-3 0-0 3, Isler 3-5 0-0 6, Martin 4-9 0-0 8, McCormack 2-6 0-0 5, Melton 1-1 0-0 2, Shubert 0-2 0-0 0, Gibson 0-0 0-0 0, Jenkins 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 23-55 2-4 53.

NOTRE DAME (4-1): Laszewski 4-9 3-4 11, Durham 3-5 5-10 11, Hubb 3-10 0-0 8, Pflueger 4-10 2-2 13, Gibbs 4-11 0-0 10, Djogo 2-3 1-2 7, Goodwin 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 21-51 11-18 63.

Halftime—Notre Dame 39-31. 3-Point Goals—Presbyterian 5-21 (Younger 1-2, Drake 1-2, Jenkins 1-4, McCormack 1-5, Hightower 1-5, Martin 0-1, Shubert 0-2), Notre Dame 10-26 (Pflueger 3-6, Djogo 2-2, Gibbs 2-5, Hubb 2-7, Goodwin 1-2, Laszewski 0-4). Fouled Out—Drake. Rebounds—Presbyterian 28 (Hightower 8), Notre Dame 33 (Durham 15). Assists—Presbyterian 11 (Martin 4), Notre Dame 15 (Pflueger 6). Total Fouls—Presbyterian 16, Notre Dame 9. Technicals—Jenkins.

Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger dishes out a pass while defended by Presbyterian’s JC Younger during Monday’s game at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame’s Juwan Durham (11) blocks Presbyterian’s Chris Martin from shooting Monday night in South Bend.