Notre Dame men's hoops finally get a home game, and get a win over Detroit Mercy

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A shout somewhere along the Notre Dame men’s basketball bench could be heard halfway up the all but empty Purcell Pavilion stands as Prentiss Hubb popped a pass to Nate Laszewski during Sunday’s game.

“Dunk that!”

Laszewski responded with a quick turn and two-handed dunk midway through the second half of the home opener against Detroit Mercy. The game had the look and feel of a sleepy Saturday morning scrimmage, but look and feel matter little this season.

Laszewski and the Irish needed to play — against anybody. The junior power forward sidestepped early foul issues to go for 16 points with 11 rebounds and the Irish shook off any lingering rust of being idle for a week with a 78-70 victory, their first in what promises to be a weird season.

“I’m really proud of our group,” said coach Mike Brey. “They just roll with it.”

That included Laszewski, who collected two fouls in the opening 5:14, but never fell out of rhythm. That might have happened his first two seasons. It didn’t happen Sunday. He stayed engaged and didn’t pick up another foul until late in the second half.

“Just realizing I can offer the team more if I can stay in the game,” Laszewski said of his mindset.

“That’s how far he’s come as a veteran guy,” Brey said. “We’re going to play guys with two fouls. He gave us a great punch. He continues to get more confident.”

All five Irish starters scored double figures.

“We need five guys in double figures, and maybe we can get a guy off the bench to double figures,” Brey said.

Not only was it key for the Irish to get a game in, but also play one that included having to make plays necessary to get out with a win. Notre Dame needed to get some stops. It did. It needed to make some big baskets. It did. It needed to play with a confidence that it could and would win. It did.

“The game pressure thing is really neat,” Brey said. “To win a hard game and have to do some stuff, I think we can build on it.”

That’s because it was different guys making plays. Like Cormac Ryan, sticking a big 3 in front of the Irish bench to stretch their lead to four. Like Dane Goodwin coming up big on drives and rebounds. Like Hubb doing what he does. Like freshman Tony Sanders hitting two big jumpers in gotta-score situations.

Six unanswered points saw the Titans take a one-point lead with 5:53 remaining after a degree of difficulty fade jumper from guard Antoine Davis. The Titans had found another gear — and confidence — one that the Irish had to match. Davis even slapped the floor to get his guys to dig in and defend after his go-ahead bucket.

The home team matched that energy with seven quick unanswered points to push out to a six-point advantage with 4:29 remaining. Goodwin got loose for a bucket before Ryan’s wing 3 in front of the Irish bench. Big moment. Big shot. He took it.

“You can’t coach that,” Brey said. “That was big for him. There’s a fearlessness to kind of want to put a dagger in and give us a two-possession lead.”

When Juwan Durham delivered a layup to make it 69-63, it was Ryan’s turn to slap the floor to get the guys in white to dig in. Notre Dame’s run topped out at 12-0 as Detroit Mercy went nearly five minutes without a point. It turned a close contest into a not-so-close contest in favor of the Irish.

Hubb led the Irish with 18. Durham bounced back from a tough night in the opener to get 12 points and nine rebounds. He had a 10th rebound slip through his hands in the closing seconds.

Around 60-70 fans attended Sunday’s game. Attendance was limited to family members of players from both teams.

Notre Dame operated severely short-handed Sunday with only eight available players, seven of those on scholarship. Graduate student/captain Nik Djogo was in street clothes while recovering from a sprained left ankle he suffered the first minute of the Nov. 28 game at No. 8 Michigan State. He’s considered day to day in a week where the Irish play three games over seven days.

Brey figures that Djogo’s likely out for Tuesday’s home game against No. 23 Ohio State.

No Djogo and no Robby Carmody (kneecap) and no Elijah Taylor (ankle) meant the Irish bench consisted of two freshmen in their second collegiate games (Sanders, Matt Zona) and a walk-on (Elijah Morgan). Only Sanders played meaningful minutes (15).

The rotation got even shorter after Laszewski picked up two fouls the first 5:14. Sanders and Zona were the first two off the bench. They played a quick two minutes. Laszewski eventually settled down on both ends. He stuck a 3 in transition then was on the receiving end of some good big-to-big passing by Durham for a pair of layups. The second allowed the Irish to stretch their lead to six.

Notre Dame jumped to an eight-point lead late in the first half on Sanders’ first career collegiate basket. That came on a corner 3 in a late shot-clock situation.

“I’m really excited about what I saw out of Tony,” Brey said.

Not playing against the size and athleticism around the bucket as it did the first time out against Michigan State allowed Notre Dame to get into more of an offensive flow. The first time out, the Irish had 10 shots blocked in the first half by the Spartans. Detroit Mercy blocked zero shots the first 20 minutes and only two in the game.

The Irish looked more like themselves with 10 assists on 16 first-half buckets.

Sunday marked the latest Irish home opener since 1992. It felt like it took 28 years to get to this point. The Irish had three home games canceled the previous week because of coronavirus issues with opponents. Western Michigan couldn’t play Wednesday, No. 13 Tennessee couldn’t play Friday and Purdue Fort Wayne couldn’t play Saturday. That meat Notre Dame had a week off following its opener Nov. 28 at Michigan State.

“We had kind of a weird week,” Brey said. “We had to get a game in.”

And, maybe most importantly, get a win.

• NOTRE DAME 78, DETROIT 70

At Purcell Pavilion

DETROIT (0-2): Isiani 1-4 0-0 2, Davis 5-19 2-2 14, Fraser 5-12 2-3 12, Johnson 5-13 3-3 15, Kuol 7-17 1-1 18, Rose 3-5 0-1 6, Calipari 0-0 0-0 0, Liedel 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 27-71 8-10 70.

NOTRE DAME (1-1): Durham 5-10 2-2 12, Laszewski 6-11 1-2 16, Goodwin 7-13 0-0 15, Hubb 6-16 2-3 18, Ryan 4-12 2-2 12, Sanders 2-2 0-0 5, Zona 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-65 7-9 78.

Halftime_Notre Dame 37-31. 3-Point Goals_Detroit 8-28 (Kuol 3-6, Johnson 2-5, Davis 2-10, Liedel 1-1, Fraser 0-3, Isiani 0-3), Notre Dame 11-23 (Hubb 4-10, Laszewski 3-4, Ryan 2-5, Sanders 1-1, Goodwin 1-3). Fouled Out_Fraser. Rebounds_Detroit 37 (Isiani 10), Notre Dame 41 (Laszewski 11). Assists_Detroit 13 (Isiani, Davis, Rose 3), Notre Dame 19 (Hubb 8). Total Fouls_Detroit 14, Notre Dame 12.

Tipoff of the home opener for Notre Dame men’s Basketball took place in a limited-attendance Purcell Pavilion Sunday in South Bend.
Notre Dame guard Cormac Ryan attempts to keep the ball in bounds in the second half against Detroit Mercy Sunday in South Bend.