What's to like about Notre Dame men's basketball exhibition game?

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) grabs a rebound from Xavier Gold Rush forward Xavier Reaves (24) in the first half Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Purcell Pavilion.

SOUTH BEND Three quick thoughts and other news, notes and anecdotes following Notre Dame’s 67-52 exhibition victory Wednesday over Xavier (La.) University at Purcell Pavilion. 

∎ Notre Dame opened the first half with a lineup look of four guards around one big man. It opened the second half with three guards and two power forwards. It played a host of combinations and different guys did some different stuff. 

It didn’t always look pretty, at least, compared to some exhibitions of seasons past when Notre Dame would score a lot of points and play a lot of guys and get very little out of it, and that was all by design. 

Playing Xavier (La.) on Wednesday after a secret scrimmage against DePaul late last month was done to make the Irish uncomfortable. See how an old team would react to not having it all flow as easily as it should flow. That certainly was the case Wednesday, which wasn’t always easy to watch. 

“Kind of learning about your group,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “These guys, they’re coming at you. Both teams were great because they just dogged us. We’ll see a lot of that.” 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) shoots a three point basket over Xavier Gold Rush forward Cory Wells (13) in the first half Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Purcell Pavilion.

The exhibition part of preseason may be over, but these Irish are far from a finished product. For this group, that’s OK. Who’s going to be the primary handler? Who’s going to rebound? Start? Come off the bench? The work continues to see just how all the pieces to the puzzle fit.

“There’s a lot to build off,” said super senior guard Dane Goodwin. “I think we’re in a good spot. We’ve got plenty of experience, plenty of young guys that are ready to contribute. 

“I think we’ve got a good squad.” 

∎ Rebounding already was going to be a season-long concern/issue for Notre Dame. But in an exhibition? Against an NAIA team that wasn’t exactly Atlantic Coast Conference-caliber bodies? 

Yep. Notre Dame finished (-13) in rebounding. It didn't crushed on the backboard, but it did get squeezed. 

Brey was pleasantly surprised that guard Marcus Hammond grabbed seven rebounds. It wasn’t a surprise to see Goodwin go for a team-high 10 rebounds with a game-high 21 points. Can we pencil Goodwin in for double-digit rebounds every night? 

“That’s the plan if I can,” he said. 

Really? 

“It’s got to be a big priority for me this year; we’ve playing a little smaller,” he said. “I need to get in there and grab some boards.” 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Marcus Hammond (10) attempts a three point basket in the first half against the Xavier Gold Rush Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Purcell Pavilion.

It wasn’t a case of bigger, more athletic bodies just working the Irish on the backboard. At one point in the second half, Xavier guard TJ Jones tracked down a teammate’s missed 3 with relative ease and flipped in a basket. 

Jones stands 5-foot-8. 

“We gotta do it as a group,” Brey said. 

And do it way better than they did it Wednesday. 

∎ Power forward Ven-Allen Lubin is going to play and do a lot this season. Point guard J.J. Starling is going to play and do a lot as well. 

On Wednesday, they looked like freshmen fazed a bit by the bright lights of their first college game. 

Starling started and finished with two points, two assists and one rebound in 32 minutes. Lubin, who suffered a nose injury recently in practice on the heels of an eye injury last month, came off the bench with four points, one rebound and one assist in 14 minutes. 

“We gotta keep making him feel comfortable,” Brey said. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard JJ Starling (1) looks to pass as Xavier Gold Rush guard Cameron Wells (12) defends in the first half Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Purcell Pavilion.

Starling missed his first six shots, and all five from 3, before finally getting in the book in the second half on a pull-up 15-footer. He shot faked, got to his space and stuck a jumper with the confidence of a kid who was a McDonald’s All-American. 

“I like that he was like, ‘I’m knocking this one down,’” Brey said. “He kind of fought through a tough shooting night. It’s all with young guys, growing them.” 

Worth noting

So much emphasis during summer and preseason was how the Irish could get into a nice offensive flow and really share it and take care of it, but they also showed Wednesday that they haven’t strayed too far from leaning on the defensive principles that last season allowed them to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. 

Notre Dame did it last year by digging in on the defensive end, especially from the 3-point line. The Irish ranked second in the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.296). 

Word from the secret scrimmage was that DePaul got going early from the 3-point line, where it hit seven of its first nine. Notre Dame had to be better from that area, and was Wednesday. 

Xavier missed its first 10 attempts from 3. The Gold Rush finished 3-for-26 (11.5 percent) from 3. That kind of defense will win you a lot of games, especially when you’re struggling on offense the way the Irish struggled (41.5 percent from the field, 26.9 percent from 3). 

“Tonight, they didn’t shoot the ball well from the 3,” said Hammond. “I guess we did a pretty good job.” 

Worth quoting

“It was fine. Nothing really came out of it. “ 

Goodwin on the scramble/scrap for a loose ball in front of the Irish bench in the first half that necessitated an official replay review to see if any illegal activity occurred. It was ruled that none did. 

By the numbers

1:12: Amount of time Notre Dame trailed Wednesday. 

2: Fast break points for the Irish. 

4: Number of Irish captains this season announced about an hour before tip — super seniors Goodwin, Nate Laszewski, Cormac Ryan and Trey Wertz.  

6: Number of graduate (super) seniors on Irish roster this season, most in the nation. 

10: Scholarship players available Wednesday for the Irish, who were without junior swingman Tony Sanders (ankle) and Robby Carmody (knee).  

12: Number of lineup combinations Irish played in a first half that saw them trail by as many as two and lead by as many as 11. All 10 available scholarship players saw time. 

38:06: Amount of time Notre Dame led.  

53: Minutes in real time that it took to play the first half, which featured a combined 16 free throws and 21 fouls. 

5,849: Total combined career points of every Irish player entering the 2022-23 season. It’s the most ever for a Brey-coached team. 

Next up

Wednesday was the opening and closing of the exhibition portion of preseason for Notre Dame, which starts for real Nov. 10 at home against Radford. The teams have met only once previously, but the last time Radford played a game at Purcell Pavilion, it won a game at Purcell Pavilion (63-60 on Nov. 14, 2018). 

That one starts a quick stretch of four games in nine days (all at home) for the Irish.  

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.