Freshmen J.J. Starling, Ven-Allen Lubin deliver like old guys in Irish victory

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Nov 22, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Ven-Allen Lubin (2) and guard JJ Starling (1) chat during warmups before the game against the Bowling Green Falcons at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND Three quick thoughts and other news and notes and anecdotes from Wednesday’s men’s college basketball game between Bowling Green and Notre Dame, won by Notre Dame, 82-66, in front of 4,863 at Purcell Pavilion... 

∎ There will be — and have been — nights when Irish freshmen Ven-Allen Lubin and J.J. Starling look and play like freshmen. There also will be nights when their skills and talents and everything else are really needed. 

Tuesday was one of those nights.  Their night.

The first four games this season, it was a lot of what Mike Brey likes to call the Big Four – fifth-year seniors Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski, Cormac Ryan and Trye Wertz – doing a lot of the heavy scoring lifting. But in the season’s fifth game, it was a big dose of the two freshmen. 

Starling scored 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting to go with six rebounds, three assists and three steals in 32 minutes as a starter while Lubin came off the bench, shook off an early missed/bad shot, and delivered 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes. 

It was a given that Starling was going to be a main guy. He's just that good. Still, Brey didn’t think he’d have to lean on him five games in. But lean he did. 

“I thought his offensive decisions tonight, there were no bad shots,” Brey said. “I thought every decision was a good decision. It’s a big step for him because his offensive decisions were aggressive, but not forced.” 

For Starling, it was more about what the old guys did to help him than what he did. 

“We were playing the right way, so it opened up,” Starling said. “We’ve ben harping on that the last couple weeks − we play the right away, the ball’s going to find the right shot.” 

Lubin checked in at the 14:50 mark of the first half. Two and a half minutes later, he hoisted an ill-advised/quick corner 3 that banged off the side/top of the backboard. It was a bad shot. But it didn’t deter him. Lubin figured he had to get closer to the rim and do work down there. He quickly delivered a couple of baskets and a post feed to Laszewski. 

“I just had to move on to the next play,” Lubin said. “I can’t let that sink in and affect my game for the rest of the night. I had to keep my mind straight and right.” 

It was like, lesson learned. Lubin needed to be down low. He got down low. 

“It’s funny how human nature is human nature,” Brey said. “Hopefully, we have him sold because he was really good around the basket. You don’t yell at him. We ran a couple things to post him up.” 

Starling was good all the way around from the start. Every shot he took was a good shot. A high percentage shot. A shot that often found the bottom of the net. A shot you'd expect from a kid that gifted.

“Shots were falling; it was great,” Starling said. “I’m very comfortable right now, playing more aggressive. Teammates have been in my ear. They know I can play aggressive and get to my spots and also find them.” 

Away from the court, Lubin is still adjusting to having seen snow this month for the first time in his life. He knew he’d see it – just not so much of it before December. 

“It’s beautiful when you’re looking out the window,” said Lubin, a native of Orlando. “When you have to walk in it, it’s a different story. I just have to embrace it.” 

And... 

“The wind,” Lubin said, “is not my best friend.” 

Nov 22, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey gestures to his players in the first half against the Bowling Green Falcons at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

∎ This looked like another of those non-league home game/grinders where the angst meter edges toward an uncomfortable area in the second half. These first five games haven’t always been easy for Notre Dame, which has won one by one point and another by three.

This looked like it would go that route especially after Bowling Green wiped clean a seven-point deficit and took a two-point lead with 10:31 to play. Ugh. Another game of late-game situations? Not exactly. 

Clinging to a one-point lead with 8:27 remaining, Notre Dame ripped off 17 unanswered to throw this one into cruise control. Bowling Green went 8:16 without a basket before scoring in the closing seconds. 

“Just as impressive, maybe more impressive, but I don’t want to reward them and tell them that, was how efficient we were offensively,” Brey said. “We got a great shot every time, or got fouled. We just really moved it.” 

Five different Irish scored in that decisive burst as Notre Dame shot 65.4 percent from the field in the second half. A 16-point home win was nice. And needed. It’s something we thought we’d seen more from a veteran team the first four games. Maybe after Thanksgiving. Maybe. 

∎ Halftime in the locker room was not the happiest of places. Brey had had it. The talk back there was first and second about defense. Being better. 

Brey had seen enough through the first four games. He'd also heard enough from us nosy media types who, after every Irish win, asked him time and again and again about the Irish defense. Or really, the lack of defense. The season's first four opponents found the offensive going way too easily. Drives to the basket. Dunks. Open shots. Good looks. High-percentage looks. Everything teams wanted to do, for the most part, they were able to do on that end. 

Tuesday looked to be more of the same after Bowling Green shot 53.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3 and was a Laszewski buzzer-beating 3 away from taking the lead at half. 

“I challenged them a little bit,” Brey said. “I said, ‘Fellas, come on man. I’m tired of answering (defensive questions about) us.’” 

Notre Dame tweaked its defensive looks to double in the post and play a little more zone. They also switched a lot and leaned a lot on guard Cormac Ryan, putting him on any Bowling Green guard who started to percolate. 

“At least we defended in the second half,” Brey said. “We’ll keep searching and keep challenging them.” 

Worth noting

Junior swingman Tony Sanders, usually on the end of the Irish bench in a sweat suit while working his way back from a sprained ankle, was absent Tuesday. 

Brey said afterward that Sanders returned home to Miami for the memorial services of Virginia linebacker D’Sean Perry, who was one of three Cavaliers shot and killed in a campus parking garage last week. Perry and Sanders were high school classmates and close friends at Gulliver Prep in South Florida. 

“We spent a lot of time with Tony (last week),” Brey said. “Doing great. We said, why don’t you go home with your family?” 

Sanders is expected back on campus next week. 

Worth noting II

The news isn’t all that optimistic on Niagara transfer guard Marcus Hammond. He remained in his blue Irish sweat suit for Tuesday’s game. Hammond has been sidelined since suffering a right knee injury earlier this month. 

The initial hope was that Hammond would be healthy enough to return last week against Lipscomb. Brey said following Friday’s game that Hammond was an “extreme longshot” to play Tuesday. Same now goes for his possible return game action in his native New York. 

“I just don’t see it for Friday,” Brey said. “We’ll take another look at it over the weekend.” 

Worth quoting

“They played like old guys tonight. They saved us. They looked like upperclassmen with the poise they had.” 

-Brey after Lubin and Starling combined for 35 points on 16-of-20 from the floor with 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in their fifth college game. 

By the numbers

0: Point scored in the second half by Bowling Green big man Rashaun Agee, who erupted for a season high 13 in the first half. 

1: Dom Campbell scored his first collegiate point midway through the first half, banking in his first free throw after being fouled and turning his ankle. Campbell missed the second, checked out and didn’t return. 

4: For the fourth time in five games, Notre Dame got its first points from Laszewski, who connected on a wing 3. The early option for the Irish offensively is easy — get Laszewski going. 

6: Bowling Green’s first six baskets – a jumper, a dunk, two drives and two lay-ins – all came in the paint. After allowing Lipscomb to shoot too high a percentage last time out, it should’ve been different for the Irish. It wasn’t. The Falcons scored 24 of their 40 first-half points in the paint. 

16: Total assists for Notre Dame, a season high. The Irish also had a season low five turnovers. 

32:44: All five Irish starters each played at least 32:44. Four starters – all seniors – all played at least 36. 

33:29: Total time that Notre Dame led Tuesday. The Irish trailed for only 3:40 and never by more than two points. 

33.3: Percentage that Bowling Green shot in the second half, a nice and needed change for Notre Dame, which allowed Lipscomb to shoot 72 percent in the second half on Friday. 

44: Points in the paint scored by Notre Dame. 

2017: Notre Dame moved to 5-0 for the first time since 2017, when it opened 6-0.

Next up

Time for Notre Dame to hit the road — kind of. The Irish will play their first game away from home this season — a neutral site game against St. Bonaventure at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York on Black Friday. Tip-off is 4 p.m. with no television. It can be seen on ESPN+. Get your shopping done early, settle in front of your streaming TV with a plate of leftovers and watch how the Irish respond in a gym other than Purcell Pavilion. 

The Irish were 3-5 on neutral courts last year. 

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