Noie: Late night not a good night for Notre Dame men in Las Vegas

Tom Noie
ND Insider

Following are NDI beat writer/columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes following Monday’s first round Maui Jim Maui Invitational game between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, won 62-59 by the Gaels.

Notre Dame graduate student Paul Atkinson was good Monday against Saint Mary's.

► It seemed this one was headed for a classic conclusion. You could just feel it. Somebody was going to do something to seal a win for their team in a game that featured 10 ties and 16 lead changes.

Notre Dame (2-1) led for only 9:55, but each time Saint Mary's (5-0) looked like it would pull away, the Irish had an answer. They needed a few more. From a few others.

Come the closing minute, an experienced Notre Dame team forgot to play with that experience and let this one get away. It was shades of too many recent seasons past. New guys, new season, old result.

Down two with 46.7 seconds remaining, Notre Dame did everything it could to NOT win. The Irish fell asleep defensively when Dan Fotu found some space on the perimeter and connected on a crusher 3-pointer to put the Gaels up two. Irish guard Trey Wertz then started his dribble in front of the Irish bench looking to get to the bucket, but stepped out of bounds for a turnover.

With the Irish down one and seven seconds remaining, Cormac Ryan made one free throw, but missed the second. His potential game-tying shot at the horn then fell short, as did Notre Dame.

This one stings, because the Irish were supposed to be beyond this. They're not. Not yet.

"They're further ahead than us," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "They've been together longer and they did it for 40 minutes."

► In a game of old guys, the other old guys were better than the Irish old guys. That's disappointing.

We were led to believe that it would be different this year, and maybe it eventually will, but for a team that starts four seniors and a graduate transfer, Notre Dame played young at critical times Monday.

The Irish didn't always guard well. They didn't always shoot it well. They didn't get into a consistent offensive rhythm well. Yes, some of that was Saint Mary's, but this is an Irish team that should understand how to counter what the other team is doing, and then go and do it.

Notre Dame went the final 3:29 without a field goal.

► There were stretches in the first half where it looked like last year’s Notre Dame outfit. Or the previous year. Or the year before that where offense just seemed to come so darn hard for those guys. 

Notre Dame opened by missing its first four shots and falling into a quick 7-0 hole. The Irish got some good offense from freshman guard Blake Wesley and got some scoring footing, but then later went nearly five minutes without any points. 

Notre Dame did score the final seven points of the half to pull even at 31 at intermission, but the offensive lulls where the Irish can’t make shots or can’t get good shots is worrisome. Notre Dame just needs to know what it does best, then go do it. Whether that means dumping it into Paul Atkinson and getting him to get into his move before the double team arrives, or getting to the mid-range as Dane Goodwin and Ryan did. 

This team is too talented and too experienced to continually fall into such ruts. Yeah, the team they’re playing is good and old and experienced, but the Irish have to believe that, you know what, so are they. Play like it. 

"Offensively, we had some lapses," Atkinson said.

Saint Mary's senior Dan Fotu was a handful for Notre Dame.

Who's hot? 

Notre Dame had no answer for senior Dan Fotu, who scored a career high 22 points and tormented the Irish all night. When they put a guard on him, the 6-foot-7, Fotu just shot over the top or took the smaller defender into the post. When they put a big on him, Fotu pulled him away from the basket and shot the 3. The native of Auckland, New Zealand was the best big on the floor, which can't happen for Notre Dame. At least, not against teams that aren't Atlantic Coast Conference elite.

Who's not? 

► Everyone on the back end of the Irish rotation. Brey went really only seven deep the first two home games, so there was little chance barring injury or foul trouble that he was going to get to eight or nine or, gasp, 10 deep in the rotation in a close game against a veteran team away from home. 

Brey’s riding with those seven – for now. Going any deeper with sophomores Tony Sanders (for fresh perimeter legs) and Elijah Taylor (another body down low) or freshman J.R. Konieczny (play the local guy!) is not something Brey’s comfortable doing.

He may get a chance to do it Tuesday.

History lesson 

► Notre Dame entered Monday’s game having won six of its last seven games at the Maui Invitational. The last time the Irish played in Maui – actually, in Maui – was in November 2017 when they hauled home the tournament championship. 

Notre Dame played an extra tournament game that season, a home game against Mount Saint Mary’s before leaving for the islands. The Irish then beat Chaminade, LSU and Wichita State in successive games for the tournament title. 

Notre Dame previous went 2-1 in 2008 with wins over Indiana and Texas (remember the Luke Harangody banked-in 3-pointer from near halfcourt?) before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina in the tourney title game. That was the night former Irish guard Kyle McAlarney made a school-record 10 3-pointers. 

Notre Dame was good that season, but nobody was beating North Carolina, which opened the season ranked No. 1, then finished No. 1, with only a few stumbles/ranking slides in between. 

Trey Wertz had previous success against Saint Mary's - before Monday.

History lesson II 

► Playing Saint Mary’s came without any previous reference point for most of the Irish. For Wertz, it was like stepping back to his early years of college, the first two of which were spent at Santa Clara. 

Wertz played three games against the Gaels. He averaged 11 points, two rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes. His best game was the first time he played Saint Mary’s as a freshman. Wertz went for 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 30 minutes of a 75-55 loss. 

Halfway through his time at Santa Clara, Wertz transferred to Notre Dame. He had seven points and a team-high five assists Monday.

By the numbers 

► 1:28 a.m.: Eastern Standard Time that Monday’s game against Saint Mary’s ended. 

► 2:23: Total amount of bench minutes played by the Irish reserves through the first three games. All of it was from freshman guard J.R. Konieczny in the opener against Cal State Northridge. 

► 3: Number of schools named Saint Mary’s – one from California, one from Kentucky and one from Minnesota - that Notre Dame has played. The first one was in 1908, a 36-22 Irish win – over Saint Mary’s (Ky.) 

► 7: Total assists Monday for Notre Dame, which often is a good showing in a half. The ball's not moving as well as it should be, and another (third straight) game where the Irish cannot get to 75 points is the result. Gotta get stops, but you also have to score. It's been hard for Notre Dame to date.

► 9: Las Vegas is considered by many in Maui to be the ninth Hawaiian Island. Never heard the term, what happens in Maui, stays in Maui. So, there’s that. 

► 82/72/42: The forecasted high temperatures Tuesday for Maui, Las Vegas and South Bend. 

► 2,703: Miles between Maui and Las Vegas. 

Worth quoting

"They're really, really good. They're tough and they're old. We could steal a page from their book as far as their poise, how they play."

-Notre Dame coach Mike Brey on Saint Mary's

Randy Bennett has had a similar coaching career at Saint Mary's as Mike Brey has had at Notre Dame.

Worth noting 

► Randy Bennett and Mike Brey are basically one in the same when it comes to their coaching resumes. 

Both have been at their respective private Catholic schools for over 20 years – this is Bennett’s 21st season while Brey is in season No. 22. Both have won at least 450 games at their schools – Bennett is at 459, Brey 450. Both have been named conference coach of the year three times – Bennett in the West Coast Conference, Brey back during Notre Dame’s days in the Big East. 

Both believe old is the way to go when it comes time to coach their teams. Speaking of that, Monday was the first time one has coached against the other. Heck, the two had never met before an Under Armour offseason junket to the Bahamas two summers ago. 

“I have always respected him from afar,” Brey said last week. “It was interesting to share and talk basketball with him because we kind of do it the same.” 

Bennett and Brey sat at the same table for dinner one night. Afterward, they stayed around for about three hours and did what head coaches do – even in the summer. They talked hoops. 

“It kind of reinforced some of the things we’ve been doing because yeah, they’re doing it and it’s working there,” Brey said. “We’ve been that same track.” 

Only one difference – Saint Mary’s has only to deal with one powerhouse school in its conference. Not so for Notre Dame in the ACC. 

“He’s got to always deal with Gonzaga,” Brey said. “I’ve got to deal with five of them or seven of them or sometimes nine of them.” 

Another difference? Cost of tuition. Notre Dame’s sticker price runs roughly just under $60,000 per year. At Saint Mary’s, it’s under $50,000. Whew, a bargain. 

Late nights in Las Vegas will be the norm for Notre Dame this week.

Late in the evening 

► When Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s finally tipped from Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas at 11:33 p.m. South Bend time, it marked the latest an Irish game has tipped off under Brey. 

But not THE latest. That mark might still belong to the 1998 Carrs Great Alaska Shootout Game between Notre Dame and then-No. 1 Duke. That game, won by the Blue Devils, 111-82, started a few minutes after midnight South Bend time – 8 p.m. at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage - on Nov. 26, 1998. 

The final buzzer on that one ended sounded at 2:05 a.m. South Bend time. 

Yeah, this guy covered that one as well. 

Next up 

Ugh. Notre Dame gets tournament host Chaminade on Tuesday. It's not as late as Monday's opener, but late enough. The teams meet at 10:30 p.m. (South Bend time). It's the third meeting between the schools, all in the Maui Invitational.

Chaminade lost to Oregon, 73-49, on Monday. Wisconsin beat Texas A&M and Houston beat Butler in the tournament’s day session. With Chaminade a Division II team, a win Tuesday would not count on Notre Dame's eventual NCA tournament resume.

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