A lot to like/see second time around for Notre Dame men's basketball

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Notre Dame guard Dane Goodwin (23) looks for open shot during the Youngstown State-Notre Dame NCAA Men’s basketball game on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND Three quick thoughts and other news, notes and anecdotes following Sunday’s men’s college basketball game between Youngstown State and Notre Dame, won by the Irish, 88-81, in front of 4,940 at Purcell Pavilion. 

∎ Old guys in college basketball are old for a reason. 

They’ve been there. They’ve done this and they’ve seen that and when it’s time to go and play a game — close or otherwise — nothing really seems to faze them. Like, ever. Get rattled? Nope. 

Such was the case Sunday for an Irish outfit that has four fifth-year guys in their tight rotation, which went all of about six and a quarter deep against Youngstown State (2-1). Notre Dame (2-0) led by as many as 10 points early in the second half, but when it got to two minutes and change remaining, the Irish found themselves in a familiar position. 

More:Super senior Trey Wertz delivers big effort as Notre Dame sidesteps Radford

One possession game. Close game. Make a play here to win it or give up a play there to lose it. Notre Dame wasn’t losing it. 

“A lot of that is just from our experiences the last four years,” said super senior guard Dane Goodwin. “We were in so many of those situations last year where we’re kind of able to draw things off of it. That certainly helped. 

“We know we stay poised the last 10 minutes and play our game, we’re eventually going to pull it out.” 

Goodwin (20 points, seven rebounds) delivered. Power forward Nate Laszewski (14 points, 10 rebounds) delivered. So did fellow fifth-year guys/captains Cormac Ryan (13 points, three rebounds) and Trey Wertz (15 points, three assists). Each time this one got tight, and each time it looked like Youngstown State might find a way to steal this one, the Irish old guys kind of collectively said, yeah, that’s not happening.  

It didn’t. Close games may be the norm for this season and for this team, that’s fine. 

“When I look out there and I see those four, there’s just a body language of, ‘Ehhh, we’re good,’” said Irish coach Mike Brey. 

Old guys. 

∎ For as many older guys as the Irish trot out there — and one of their old guys (and maybe best guys) is still missing in guard Marcus Hammond, likely down for another week with a knee injury — the young guys are also pretty good. 

Particularly freshman guard J.J. Starling. 

Notre Dame guard JJ Starling (1) looks to pass the ball during the Youngstown State-Notre Dame NCAA Men’s basketball game on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

Starting for a second straight night (and likely a starter for however long he’s at Notre Dame) Starling looked a whole lot more comfortable the second time around than he did in last week’s opener. More confident. More sure. More of, OK, I’m just going to take this step-back 3 and knock it down. Then knock down some more big shots. 

“My first game, I was a little in my head,” Starling said. “First game, freshman coming in, you want to perform (but) my guys, they just told me to continue to be myself and be more aggressive. I just came in with that mindset.” 

Starling isn’t afraid of the big shot or the bright lights and showed it Sunday. He scored 17 points with four assists in 34 minutes. With the Irish up five and three-plus minute remaining, Starling pushed the lead back to seven on a big drive. Back came Youngstown State to get within three, but Starling stuck a 3 to push it back to six. He hit another three in the closing 77 seconds to keep the Penguins from believing. 

Big-time plays from a big-time player.

“It’s just a big confidence piece,” Starling said. “I’m glad to be back hitting big shots and getting to the rim because I know I can do that well.” 

More:Nate Laszewski took the 5th, and aims for it to pay off this college basketball season

You could see Starling kick his game into another gear Sunday, a gear he didn’t get to the first night out. 

“He knew he played a little safe,” Brey said of Starling’s debut. “That’s OK. It’s almost predictable. The greatest endorsement of being aggressive was Dane, Trey, Cormac and Nate going to him – ‘Hey man, go ahead. Go for it a little bit.’” 

Starling went for it.  

∎ Adrian Nelson has played in a mid-major conference in his two college stops (he’s a graduate student from Northern Kentucky), but he has an Atlantic Coast Conference kind of game that the Irish are going to have to deal with in the coming months. 

On Sunday. Notre Dame had no answer for the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Nelson, who scored a career-high 27 points with 10 rebounds. For long stretches, he was the best player on the floor not named Dane Goodwin. He hit from inside. He hit from outside. He played like an ACC big. 

“I thought AD really carried us in the first half,” said Penguins coach Jerrod Calhoun. 

Notre Dame guard Trey Wertz (3) goes up for a shot as Youngstown State forward Adrian Nelson (1) defends during the Youngstown State-Notre Dame NCAA Men’s basketball game on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

Make that the first half and the second half and basically the entire game. He finished 12-of-18 from the floor. Each time he took a shot, you figured it was going in. Many did. 

That’s going to be an issue going forward, maybe as soon as Nov. 30 when Michigan State comes to town. Notre Dame’s lack of size/interior defense was apparent Sunday. 

“You get into the ACC, you’re going to need some bodies,” Calhoun said. 

“No question,” Brey said. 

Help for the Irish, though, is on the way. In fact, it’s already here. Keep reading. 

Worth noting

Notre Dame is going to have low-post/length issues until freshman power forward Ven-Allen Lubin gets back into a rhythm, and gets back to where he was two weeks into summer, when the Irish staff looked at one another and thought, whoa. 

Lubin was on track to start the season as a starter, but was sidetracked by taking a pair of shots to the face in practice during preseason. The second forced him to wear a protective mask over his nose.  

“I do think that knocked him back,” Brey said. 

Notre Dame forward Ven-Allen Lubin (2) dunks the ball during the Youngstown State-Notre Dame NCAA Men’s basketball game on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

Playing with the mask has been an adjustment, but like with Starling, he looked way more comfortable on the court Sunday. He played 23 minutes. He scored nine points. He made a big 3. He rebounded (four). He had a dunk. He blocked a pair of shots. He found Laszewski on a nice high-low entry pass. He’s coming. 

“We need to get him in there and play big,” Brey said. “We don’t have a guy like that. He is really gifted.” 

Getting Lubin more into the mix will add another dimension yet to be seen from this team. Wait. Watch. 

Worth quoting

“It’s perfect, like I can look over at Dane, Cormac and they’re level-headed so it’s making me level-headed. I know that I don’t need to panic, because we’re going to have everything under control.” — Starling on being a young guy around so many veterans 

Worth quoting II

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey encourages his team during the Youngstown State-Notre Dame NCAA Men’s basketball game on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

“I’ve got a new remedy when teams shoot 50 percent against us - let’s just us shoot 60 (percent).”  Brey whose team shot 60 percent from the field, 53.3 percent from 3.

By the numbers

2: Largest deficit Sunday for Notre Dame, which trailed by as many as 10 in the opener against Radford. 

5: Number of Irish who all logged at least 30:12 minutes. 

6: Number of Irish who scored double figures Sunday. 

8: Rebounding advantage for Notre Dame (32-24) after (-3) in the opener. 

11/14: Assists to turnovers for the Irish, who needed to be better after going the first game 11/10, but weren’t. 

22: Combined points in the second half for Goodwin and Ryan, who went for eight and three in the first half before finishing with 20 and 13. 

31.8: Percentage Youngstown State shot from the 3-point line (7-22), an improvement for Notre Dame after allowing Radford to shoot 36.4. 

35:55: Amount of time the Irish led the Penguins. 

40: Number of students in the stands for Sunday’s game. Not really, but you expected a far better turnout from them for a Sunday game that tipped at 4 p.m. 

48: Points in the paint scored by Youngstown State, which came into the contest averaging 90.1 overall. 

93.3: Percentage Notre Dame shot from the free throw line. The Irish finished 14-of-15 for the game, including 9-for-9 in the second half. Somewhere, you can hear Brey saying how much of a weapon the line is this season for Notre Dame, now 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) in two games. 

Next up

A busy week of three home games in six days continues Wednesday with a first-time visit from Southern Indiana (1-1) which won for the first time this season Sunday over Southern Illinois. 

Notre Dame 88, Youngstown St. 81YOUNGSTOWN ST. (2-1): Green 3-8 0-1 7, Nelson 12-18 1-1 27, Cohill 7-13 3-4 18, Covington 1-3 2-2 5, Rathan-Mayes 2-3 0-0 4, Dunn 1-2 0-0 2, Rush 4-11 0-0 9, McBride 1-5 2-2 5, Lovelace 2-2 0-0 4, Hunter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-65 8-10 81.NOTRE DAME (2-0): Laszewski 5-8 3-3 14, Goodwin 9-14 1-1 20, Ryan 3-7 6-6 13, Starling 6-13 2-3 17, Wertz 6-9 2-2 15, Lubin 4-4 0-0 9, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-55 14-15 88.Halftime_Notre Dame 43-36. 3-Point Goals_Youngstown St. 7-22 (Nelson 2-4, Cohill 1-2, Covington 1-3, McBride 1-3, Green 1-4, Rush 1-4, Dunn 0-1, Rathan-Mayes 0-1), Notre Dame 8-15 (Starling 3-4, Laszewski 1-1, Lubin 1-1, Goodwin 1-2, Ryan 1-3, Wertz 1-4). Rebounds_Youngstown St. 20 (Nelson 10), Notre Dame 31 (Laszewski 10). Assists_Youngstown St. 14 (Cohill 6), Notre Dame 11 (Goodwin, Wertz 3). Total Fouls_Youngstown St. 17, Notre Dame 11. A_4,940 (9,149).

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