Notre Dame gets its game and season in gear against No. 20 Michigan State
SOUTH BEND — Seated this summer in the office of the Notre Dame men’s basketball coach, fifth-year guard Cormac Ryan listened as Mike Brey shared a story.
It was of former Irish guard Ben Hansbrough. Brey told the tale of the utmost confidence displayed by the 2011 Big East player of the year, especially when his game got rolling and the shots started falling and it seemed like there was nothing that the ultra-competitive, ultra-sure Hansbrough couldn’t do on the basketball court.
Just get out of his way and let him cook. Who was going to tell him otherwise? Certainly not the head coach, though Brey would give it his best shot. In the end, Brey decided it was best to let B-Hans be B-Hans. Maybe one day this season, Brey wondered, Ryan would have his own B-Hans moment when he looked and played and responded like a man on a basketball mission.
Wednesday was that night. In the biggest game to date this season for unranked and still-searching-for-an-identity Notre Dame (6-1), Ryan delivered and directed a 70-52 victory over No. 20 Michigan State (5-3).
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Ryan played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 23 points, the bulk of those in a first half in which he simply couldn’t miss. Ryan started shooting, seldom stopped, and was the fuse that allowed the Irish to light up a lead that ballooned to as many as 23 points. The New York City guard had that New York City look about him, the same one that he carried across a national stage last March during the NCAA tournament, when he scored a career high 29 points in a first-round game against Alabama.
Ryan was confident. Ryan was a little cocky. Ryan drove the Irish train that day in San Diego nine months ago and he drove it again late Wednesday night for an Irish team that had struggled out of the station to date. By halftime, Notre Dame was sailing toward victory in a game in which the home team led for nearly 37 minutes.
It was supposed to be close. It never was close.
“Who was that team I took to Long Island?” Brey wondered five days after the Irish lost to St. Bonaventure in a game they never led and never looked right. “What a great night. We played right.”
This one was a thorough you-know-what kicking. On every level. In every way. In the finale of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for both teams — the series basically dissolved after this game — Notre Dame owned its college basketball neighbors to the north. Own that Sparty.
Ryan was a big reason. Why? Easy. It was a big night. A night that this veteran Irish team loaded with fifth-year guys simply had to have. No use waiting around until Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at home against struggling Syracuse. If the Irish are to do it then, why not first do it Wednesday?
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Late night, juiced house, national television audience. There was a different feel to everything. Perfect time to show everyone what this Notre Dame team can be, so go and be it.
That the Irish did. They shot it. They defended. They moved it. They played with a swagger that hadn’t been seen this season. It was the ultimate prove-it game.
“I think we were due for one,” Ryan said. “All of us. We have guys who are too good at playing the right way and I think we were still trying to find ourselves and we picked a good night to figure it out.”
Big effort, big night, big win
Forget bounce-back mode, which Brey said his team was fully in after last week’s sleepwalking effort loss against St. Bonaventure. This was more show-me mode. Notre Dame could bounce back but still lose. It had to play well. It had to win.
Notre Dame showed everyone what Notre Dame can and should be.
“Obviously it was a big game,” Ryan said. “It’s the kind of game you want to play and play well in.”
How good can Notre Dame be? Here you go. Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was taken aback by what he saw from Notre Dame.
“That was not at all the same team you guys covered the first six games,” Izzo said.
As for Ryan? Izzo knew he was going to do.
“We called him the most dangerous guy,” Izzo said. “He’s smart. He’s efficient. I’m a fan of his.”
Ryan had a look Monday before practice of someone who knew what was coming Wednesday. Like, he was going to do what he did. The Irish were going to do what they did. Those first six games of the season would be like they never happened – or happened to someone else.
It was time for the Irish to forget about all that and play well for all 40 minutes. Ryan made sure of it.
“He’s the voice; he sets the tone,” Brey said. “He knows this is the one to get us going. He’s our voice. He’s our vibe. He’s our emotion.”
He’s this team’s Hansbrough, which circles back to that summer story in Brey’s office.
In 2010, Hansbrough was working on a big national stage (Freedom Hall) in a game against a big non-conference opponent (Kentucky). Hansbrough got going early, like Ryan did Wednesday. Each shot felt like it was going in, so he kept stepping back deeper and deeper from 3. Just like Ryan. He had that maniacal look. Just like Ryan. He wrestled control of the game by its neck. Like Ryan.
One time down the floor a dozen years ago, Hansbrough quick shot it when maybe moving it to the other side of the floor, then waiting for it to come back around his way, might’ve been the better/smarter play. Nope. Hansbrough wasn't having that. Brey mentioned that to Hansbrough during the next time down the floor.
Hansbrough responded in a way that only a few who’ve played for Brey could.
“(Forget) you, I’m rolling,” Hansbrough said.
Standing on the sideline in Louisville that night, Brey absorbed the comment − only another word that starts with “F” and is four letters long was used - and kind of shrugged. For the record, Hansbrough made five 3s and scored 21 points that night, but Notre Dame lost. Notre Dame wasn’t losing Wednesday.
As Ryan left Brey’s office this summer, he popped his back in really quick and added, don’t be surprised if there’s a game or two this season when he said to the coach (Forget) you, I’m rolling.
“He has permission to,” Brey joked. “He’s got a lot of Ben in him. Like Ben, it comes of him and it’s contagious.”
Ryan made seven of his eight shots in the first half, and all five from 3, for 20 points. He never turned to Brey and said (forget) you, but then again, he didn’t have to.
““I think he knew; I think it was pretty clear,” Ryan said. “Hey, man, every guy on the team has had a night this season that they’ve been rolling. I was happy that I was able to make shots.”
Everyone in the building knew that this was the Cormac Ryan game. He was rolling. And when he’s rolling, these Irish are different. He gets rolling and pretty soon, so does freshman guard J.J. Starling (14 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks) and so does super senior Dane Goodwin (12 points, five rebounds) and before you know it, a game that was supposed to be a grind in every way for the Irish turns into seemingly a Sunday afternoon stroll.
This one was easy. As easy as any game has looked to date for Notre Dame. This was as close to a must-win game as games in late November (now early December) get. The Irish won. Now, on to league play.
If Ryan and the Irish want to keep rolling, go right ahead.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
∎ NOTRE DAME 70, No. 20 MICHIGAN STATE 52
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
At Purcell Pavilion
MICHIGAN STATE (5-3): Hauser 6-13 0-0 12, Sissoko 2-5 0-0 4, Brooks 1-4 0-0 3, Hoggard 5-13 4-4 15, Walker 4-13 2-2 12, Whitens 0-0 0-0 0, Holloman 1-2 0-0 2, Cooper 1-2 0-0 2, Kohler 1-2 0-0 2, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 6-6 52.
NOTRE DAME (6-1): Laszewski 4-9 0-0 9, Goodwin 5-9 0-0 12, Ryan 8-11 1-2 23, Starling 6-14 2-3 14, Wertz 2-6 2-2 8, Lubin 2-5 0-1 4. Totals 27-54 5-8 70.
Halftime: Notre Dame 42-24. 3-Point Goals: Michigan St. 4-12 (Walker 2-4, Brooks 1-3, Hoggard 1-4, Hauser 0-1), Notre Dame 11-26 (Ryan 6-7, Goodwin 2-4, Wertz 2-4, Laszewski 1-4, Starling 0-7). Rebounds: Michigan St. 28 (Sissoko 8), Notre Dame 28 (Laszewski 8). Assists: Michigan St. 8 (Hoggard 3), Notre Dame 13 (Wertz 7). Total Fouls: Michigan St. 12, Notre Dame 12. A_7,854 (9,149).