Noie: Sophomore status aside, Prentiss Hubb gives Irish a needed swagger
Two words seldom sat in the same sentence the past two decades around the Notre Dame men’s basketball program.
Sophomore and swagger.
Pick a player who has passed through these parts over the last 20 years. Odds are he didn’t show much swagger during his second season. Jerian Grant had a little of it. So did Pat Connaughton. Bonzie Colson didn’t. Neither did Matt Farrell. Luke Harangody and Chris Thomas oozed it, but they were the exceptions to this rule — swagger would wait until you were an upperclassman.
The way this program runs, guys usually play very little their freshman years, play some more as sophomores, then are given the freedom and the trust to open up everything about their games their final two seasons. They play. They lead. They succeed. They swagger.
Then there’s point guard Prentiss Hubb, who’s shown more swagger than any Irish sophomore since maybe Tory Jackson, who averaged 8.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 32.8 minutes in 2007-08. Hubb just has it, whatever it is. A belief that time or place or score or situation or venue doesn’t matter; he’s going to do what he needs to with his game to win a game.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Hubb is doing a lot of what he did as a freshman, much of that lost on many after he was tossed into a tough situation and left to fend a lot for himself in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In that struggle of his first season, the Irish found something in Hubb, who averaged 8.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 33.6 minutes per game. Only one guard — Thomas — played more minutes than Hubb (1,255 to 1,110) as a true freshman under coach Mike Brey.
Hubb’s done more of the same the second time around — 12.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists in 33.7 minutes. He’s been an adrenaline shot of needed swagger for a program that was just too bland last season. Too quiet. Too nice. Too just there. Some like his game. Others may not.
Still, Hubb gives these Irish an edge. He still takes the occasional questionable shot or quick shot or makes the questionable decision, but for the most part, he’s had the answers. Cockiness? Sure. Confidence? Lots of it.
“I’ve always been like that,” he said. “It’s just my personality. I’m just kind of a competitive guy.”
Kind of? Hubb’s often at his best when everything’s stacked against him. Like earlier this month when he was tagged with a technical foul for taunting late in the second half of a close contest at Syracuse (11-7; 4-3 ACC), which makes a return visit to Notre Dame (11-6; 2-4) on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN2). Hubb admitted afterward it was a dumb decision on his part, a potential game-changing one. It was — for Hubb. He scored eight points the final 3:45 after the technical to finish with 22 points and nine assists in an 88-87 Irish win.
Last week in Atlanta, Hubb bricked a quick 3-pointer that banged off the backboard. Fans in McCamish Pavilion let him know about it with “Airball! Airball!” chants every time he touched it. That’s cool, Hubb seemed to say without saying much, he’d have something more for them.
Hubb scored 20 of his career-high 25 in the second half to help the Irish to a 78-74 victory. The work merited league player of the week consideration. He didn’t win it, but he proved a little something to the league. And to those watching back in South Bend.
Just when it seems he’s going to shrink from the moment, he does the opposite. He swaggers through it. Notre Dame’s been a different-looking team since that afternoon in Syracuse. The Irish carry themselves differently. Like they belong. Like they believe. Hubb’s been a key reason.
Hubb and backcourt mate T.J. Gibbs have learned to feed off one another’s swagger. One has it, and the other wants some. It gets both going. It gets the rest of the Irish going.
“There’s no question that a Prentiss Hubb and a T.J. Gibbs are kind of giving you a little bit of an edge and a confidence that kind of permeates through the group,” Brey said. “Those two guys have helped us. Hopefully we can keep them in that mode.”
When Hubb’s doing what he’s doing, and Gibbs is doing what he’s doing, that allows the rest of the Irish to do what they can do. Like John Mooney going and getting yet another double double for points and rebounds. Like sophomore Dane Goodwin continuing to be instant scoring energy off the bench as the sixth man. Hubb’s drive has given this team some direction.
“It helps us as a team playing with that confidence,” Goodwin said. “It’s nice to know going into a game that you can play that way. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
Notre Dame’s overdue to start doing it at home. The Irish are one of two ACC teams (Georgia Tech) still winless at home in conference play. Those struggles were supposed to end last month in the league opener against Boston College (they didn’t). They almost ended 11 days ago against Louisville (still didn’t). The Irish know they have, have, have to end Wednesday if they’re to keep this season moving in the right direction.
It was no coincidence that Monday’s practice was held at Purcell Pavilion. With Rolfs Hall now their hoops nerve-center, the Irish often visit the arena only on days before home games. Getting two full days on the floor, Brey hoped, would change the all-important home karma.
Anything for a home win.
“It,” Hubb said, “would be big for us.”
And off the chart critical for the overall swagger.
WHO: Notre Dame (11-6; 2-4 ACC) vs. Syracuse (11-7; 4-3).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).
WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI
NOTING: Buddy Boeheim scored 26 points and Elijah Hughes added 17 points and seven rebounds as Syracuse beat Virginia Tech, 71-69, on Saturday in Blacksburg. Boeheim was 5-for-13 from 3, the rest of the Orange were 1-for-11. Boeheim, Hughes and Marek Dolezaj all played 40 minutes. … Syracuse is 3-0 on the road in league play with victories over Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Virginia. … Notre Dame and Syracuse rank first and third in the league in assist/turnover ratio (1.80 and 1.36) and assists (17.6 and 16.0). … Syracuse is third in the league in field goal percentage defense (.384) and 3-point field goal percentage (.362). The Orange are fourth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.304). … Hughes is second in the league in scoring (19.3) and first in minutes (37.8). … This is the second meeting in 18 days between the teams, who met Jan. 4 at Syracuse, an 88-87 Notre Dame win. That game features 18 lead changes and nine ties. John Mooney led the Irish with 28 points and 14 rebounds. The Irish were 15-of-31 from 3. … The Orange have won three in a row after losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech … Syracuse leads the all-time series 29-22, including 13-10 in South Bend and 4-3 as ACC colleagues. The teams have split their last six meetings in South Bend since 2008. … A win today would give Notre Dame its first season sweep of Syracuse since 1997. … The Irish have been idle since a 78-74 victory at Georgia Tech on Jan. 15. Prentiss Hubb scored a career-high 25 points; T.J. Gibbs added 17. … This starts a stretch of four of five league games at home for Notre Dame, who are 0-2 in league play at Purcell Pavilion. … Notre Dame opened this week in 12th place in the 15-team ACC. … Wednesday’s halftime show features Red Panda, whose appearance in South Bend last season was canceled because of bad weather.
QUOTING: “We keep getting to this crossroads and we haven’t been able to get over the hump yet. It would be really powerful.”
• Irish coach Mike Brey on his team's quest to win its first league home game.