Noie: Way more interesting than anticipated, but Notre Dame handles High Point in hoops

Tom Noie
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Following are NDI beat writer/columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes following Tuesday’s men’s college basketball game between Notre Dame and High Point, won 70-61 by the Irish (2-0). 

► There have been times and games and stretches during his career where it seemed Notre Dame senior power forward Nate Laszewski was so concerned about doing what he was touted to do, what he was supposed to do — make shots — that it affected other parts of his game.

Not anymore.

Notre Dame's Nate Laszewski (14) drives against High Point's Zack Austin (55) during the Notre Dame vs. High Point NCAA men's basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.

Laszewski hasn't let an inability to consistently score weigh on his game. Like Tuesday, when he couldn't get many shots to fall (4-for-11 from the field, 2-for-5 from 3), but made a difference in other ways. Like a career high 16 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive end.

"He's always been a great unselfish defender, and what he's doing to help his team," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "He's learning how to play with this group and what this group needs.

"I love the mindset of, if it's not going for me, I'm going to do stuff on the other end of the floor."

As long as Laszewski keeps it simple by defending and rebounding, the other stuff will come, Even if it doesn't, that's OK too. The Irish need his defense. They need his rebounding. They need him, just not to score big. Of course, a key 3, like he stuck to put the Irish up 12 with just over six minutes to play, doesn't hurt.

► One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 men’s basketball season

► Noie: A big-picture look at the 2021-22 season for the Notre Dame men's basketball team

Next time down, Brey barked out a set play — "Four for Nate!" – that ended with a trey Wertz pull-up jumper.

"Who's Nate Laszewski going to be?" Brey wondered. "Defend, rebound, swing the ball. Just play like a man."

Like Tuesday.

► What does this Irish team do well when the 3-pointers aren’t falling? That was a question that needed a whole lot of attention in the first half when the Irish took 20 3-pointers and made only three. What could they do differently to generate some scoring chances? 

"We've got great shooters on this team," said Irish senior guard Cormac Ryan. "We're going to keep letting it fly. It's a big weapon for us."

But when those shots don't fall, the Irish don’t have a guard who can just go and break someone down off the dribble and open stuff up for this guy and that guy. It’s more move the ball and keep moving and find a way to generate some good offense. That was a struggle in the first half, and the Irish actually trailed by one at intermission.

"Just keep working on the defensive end," Brey said. "We'll figure out how to be more efficient on the offensive end."

► These early-season home games in front of half-empty stands against (seemingly) overmatched opponents are nice to build wins and corner confidence, but when you have such a veteran team – one that features five seniors and a graduate student in the rotation’s top seven – you need something more. And sooner than later. 

You need challenges. That's exactly what’s coming the next seven games over 26 days for Notre Dame starting next week with three games in three days in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. How are the Irish going to react to more adversity than they had the first two times out? Who are they going to be? 

Off the heels of that is a game at Illinois, a game at Boston College to start Atlantic Coast Conference play, a home game against No. 13 Kentucky and a “neutral site” game against Indiana. 

We don’t know much about this Notre Dame team and what makes it tick. We soon will. We may not learn everything about these Irish over the next seven games, but we’re going to know more about them than we know now. Can’t wait.

"Now it's coming at us," said Brey. "I love it. Let's go." 

Notre Dame associate head coach Anthony Solomon couldn't have liked what he saw from the Irish defensively in Tuesday's first half against  High Point.

Who's hot? 

How about Irish associate head coach Anthony Solomon, whose job since he arrived in the offseason was the address and fix the Notre Dame defense. Solomon then watched High Point shoot 44.4 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3 in the first half. 

High Point made it look relatively easy in the first 20 minutes, when it went up by five and led for 8:52. This year’s Irish defense looked a lot like last year’s Irish defense in the first half. That can’t happen this year. But it happened. 

Notre Dame was better to start the second half – High Point made just one of its first nine shots – to finally get some breathing room. It would be nice to see those stops surface a little earlier instead of the gotta--have-it stage.

Notre Dame sophomore power forward Elijah Taylor missed Tuesday's game with the flu.

Who's not? 

Sophomore PF Elijah Taylor seemed on the verge of cracking the regular rotation during the exhibition season, when he made his case as the first big off the bench. Since then, Taylor has sat out Saturday’s opener with a lower leg injury suffered in practice, then missed Tuesday’s game with the flu, which has run through the team. With the next five games away from home, it’s going to be difficult for Taylor gain many minutes/confidence and climb back into the rotation. Too much lost practice time to make up in those high-level game situations. 

It was a memorable afternoon when Mike Brey and Tubby Smith first met as coaches in a Notre Dame-Kentucky game in 2001. Ryan Humphrey had something on his mind other than basketball that day.

History lesson 

Prior to Tuesday’s win, Brey never had beaten a Tubby Smith-coached team. Brey was 0-4 against Smith’s teams at Kentucky. Brey’s first meeting with Smith was a memorable afternoon at Rupp Arena on Jan. 13, 2001. 

For reasons that had little to do with basketball. 

Ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, Notre Dame lost the game, 81-72. The day before, Irish power forward Ryan Humphrey, now a Notre Dame assistant coach, was quoted in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader about how much he missed playing football. Humphrey was a Parade All-American tight end/defensive end at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Humphrey admitted in the story that he pondered playing football for Notre Dame – as in 2001. 

After going for 12 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the game, Humphrey was asked about playing football the following fall for then-Irish coach Bob Davie. He doubled down on the possibility. 

“I never want to be one of those people that say, 'I wish I would have done this,'” Humphrey told the Tribune. 

Brey brushed it off in typical Brey fashion. 

“Does he have to report to spring practice tomorrow?” Brey joked after the game. 

Humphrey never did play football. He did become a first team All-Big East player his senior year and was a first-round NBA draft pick. He put football far in his rearview mirror. Except for that one afternoon in the Commonwealth. 

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and High Point head coach Tubby Smith talk before the Notre Dame vs. High Point NCAA men's basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.

By the numbers 

► 0: Number of times Brey saw graduate student power forward Paul Atkinson, Jr. the previous two days as the graduate student was suffering from the flu. Atkinson then played 29 minutes.

► 3: Three Irish finished with double doubles for points and rebounds — Atkinson (19 and 11), Laszewski (10 and 16) and Dane Goodwin (12 and 11).

► 3: Number of Irish who didn't play (J.R. Konieczny, Tony Sanders, Jr., Matt Zona) who were out getting up extra shots long after the final horn.

► 7: The Irish again worked the second straight regular season game — and really, third in a row counting the exhibition — with a seven-man rotation. Who would be eight? Maybe Sanders Jr., or Konieczny. Nobody really knows, maybe not even the head coach. We might find out next week. We might not.

► 7.0: High Point guard John-Michael Wright came in averaging seven points a game, then erupted for 10 in the first five-plus minutes to help High Point lead by as many as five. He was a problem early for the Irish, then finished with 17 relatively quiet points.

► 13: Notre Dame finally got some needed separation early in the second half with a 13-0 run, which turned a two-point Irish deficit into an 11-point lead with 14:14 remaining. It was the first double digit lead of the game for Notre Dame.

► 15: Percentage that Notre Dame shot from 3-point range in the first half, which was one reason this actually was a game in the second half. 

► 59.3: The percentage the Irish shot from the foul line (16-of-27) after shooting 77.3 percent as a team last season.

Notre Dame hits the road for the next five and six of the next seven games, a stretch that will tell us a whole lot about this Irish team - and maybe, this season.

Worth noting 

When the horn sounded on Tuesday’s game, it marked the start of a 25-day break between Notre Dame home games. The Irish play their next five on the road and won’t be back in Purcell Pavilion until the Dec. 11 game against No. 13 Kentucky. 

That’s an odd amount of time between home games for the Irish, but not all that rare. As recently as 2018-19, Notre Dame went 21 days between home games with three road games in three parts of the country – in New York against Oklahoma, in Los Angeles against UCLA and in Indianapolis against Purdue for the Crossroads Classic. 

It's been done before, but nothing like Brey’s second season of 2001-02, when Notre Dame went an almost insane/unheard of 32 days between home games — from Nov. 28 to Dec. 30. 

How did that happen? Myriad reasons. There was the football agreement between Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) — the Irish got out of a contract to play at Notre Dame Stadium against the RedHawks — that sent the Irish basketball team to a December game in Oxford, Ohio. There was a contract remaining from the one-year coaching gig of Matt Doherty that had Notre Dame go to Buffalo, New York to play Canisius (and beat a snowstorm out of town). There was a one-shot game in New Orleans to play Alabama as part of the annual Sugar Bowl. There was a true road game at Indiana (remember those days?). There were final exams. 

It could’ve been worse. Brey was able to break a contract that Doherty had in place to play for Notre Dame to play Tennessee Tech that year in Cookeville, Tennessee. That season also featured a trip to Honolulu to play three games at the Hawaii Pacific Thanksgiving Classic. 

The pre-conference travel that season was nuts. 

Notre Dame's Cormac Ryan (5) drives past High Point's Zack Austin (55) during the Notre Dame vs. High Point NCAA men's basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.

Worth quoting

"It's poise, not panic. We know the shots are going to fall and we know we're going to get stops. It's just a matter of sitting down and doing it."

— Notre Dame senior guard Cormac Ryan on this team's mindset to guard and score

Next up for Notre Dame, yeah, you know.

Next up 

A long commercial flight trip across the Pacific Ocean that includes a connection in California for three games in three days at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. 

Whoops. Scratch that … 

The annual prestigious in-season tournament has moved to Las Vegas this year because of pandemic protocols on the islands. That means only a three-hour charter flight out for Notre Dame, which opens tournament play Monday (11:30 p.m., ESPN2) against Saint Mary’s. Then it’s a second-round game Tuesday against either Oregon or Chaminade. The other half of the bracket has Butler, Houston Texas A&M and Wisconsin. 

Notre Dame has advanced to the tournament championship in each of its previous two visits to Maui, including winning it all in 2017. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI

► NOTRE DAME 70, HIGH POINT 61

At Purcell Pavilion

HIGH POINT (61): Austin 3-13 3-5 11, Peterson 0-2 0-0 0, Izunabor 0-3 0-0 0, House 5-11 5-6 17, J.Wright 6-13 2-3 17, Randleman 3-7 2-6 8, Holt 1-2 0-0 2, Sanchez 3-3 0-0 6, Caraher 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 21-59 12-20 61.

NOTRE DAME (70): Atkinson 7-11 5-9 19, Laszewski 4-11 0-0 10, Goodwin 3-8 5-6 12, Hubb 3-13 1-4 8, Ryan 3-10 3-5 10, Wertz 3-8 0-1 7, Wesley 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 24-65 16-27 70.

Halftime: High Point 33-32. 3-Point Goals: High Point 7-19 (J.Wright 3-6, House 2-4, Austin 2-7, Caraher 0-2), Notre Dame 6-31 (Laszewski 2-5, Wertz 1-3, Goodwin 1-6, Ryan 1-6, Hubb 1-8, Wesley 0-3). Rebounds: High Point 30 (Peterson 7), Notre Dame 47 (Laszewski 16). Assists: High Point 9 (Austin 3), Notre Dame 13 (Hubb 5). Total Fouls: High Point 17, Notre Dame 17. A: 5,124.