That's the way you put the wraps on non-conference play

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Dec 27, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Marcus Hammond (10) drives to the basket as Jacksonville Dolphins guard Gyasi Powell (10) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND Three quick thoughts and other news and notes and anecdotes from Tuesday’s non-conference men’s basketball game between Jacksonville (7-4) and Notre Dame (8-5) won by the Irish, 59-43 in front of 6,151 at Purcell Pavilion... 

∎ That was the guy. 

That was the guy who played in all those games and scored all those points the previous four seasons at Niagara. 

That was the guy who through Notre Dame’s first 25 preseason practices was the team’s most efficient player and, arguably, its best. 

More:Player-led meetings allow Notre Dame football to bring young talents along faster

That was the guy we expected to see from the jump this season, but who instead dragged along a right leg wrapped in a brace after a knee injury forced him to miss the first seven games. 

It was only a matter of time before we saw the real Marcus Hammond. On Tuesday, we saw the real Marcus Hammond after he went for a team-high 15 points on 6-of-11 from the floor to go with three rebounds and three assists. 

“I just had a rough stretch to start off the season trying to get it going with the guys,” Hammond said. “They’d already been in a flow. I was bound for a good game.” 

Notre Dame is different with Hammond in the lineup. The ball moves up the floor faster. It moves around the halfcourt faster. It moves. It moves when Hammond gets it, because he knows what to do with it. Drive it. Shoot it. Score it. Then even play some defense at the other end. 

When he’s going at a different gear, so are the Irish. 

For the first time Tuesday, Hammond looked like himself. He played like himself. That can only help this team going forward. 

“That,” said Irish coach Mike Brey, “was Marcus Hammond.” 

No more excuses, Hammond said afterward because “it’s time to go.” 

It certainly is.

∎ Brey intercepted the line of questioning before it had time to get off the ground. He knew where the query was going, and wasn’t going to wait for it to get there. 

“What was that...” 

“We were practicing halfcourt offense,” Brey said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever done that. We weren’t moving much; we weren’t cutting.” 

So Brey went back to coaching. At halftime. Of an actual game. Just under five minutes remained in intermission, and there was the head coach, the guy who’s been around for 23 seasons, coaching up his guys from near halfcourt as they ran through a five-out dummy offense called “five-out cutters and then sprint to the ball screen.”  

Brey yelled. He pointed. He motioned. Only prop missing was a whistle around his neck and it would feel like he was back across the way inside the Rolfs Hall practice facility. 

“We are still working on things, obviously,” Brey said. “We were practicing there a little bit.” 

Can’t say we’ve ever seen Brey — or really, any college head coach — out there at halftime working like it was a Saturday morning practice in October. Outside of Red Panda or the Simon Sez guy, it was about as entertaining a halftime show as halftime shows go.

Notre Dame needed it to move better on offense, but the pep talk/coach speak might’ve helped the Irish more on defense. Jacksonville shot 40.0 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3 the final 20 minutes, when Notre Dame turned what had been a close game into an empty-the-bench breeze by the end. 

“We were more together on that (defensive) end of the floor and switching and putting our chest on people,” Brey said. “We’ve done it some, but we have not done it enough.” 

Notre Dame will have to do it every single night moving forward through league play. No excuses. No exceptions. 

Dec 27, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard JJ Starling (1) smiles in the second half against the Jacksonville Dolphins at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

∎ Freshman guard J.J. Starling got a glance at the final stats sheet and his eyes likely widened. Not because of the points he scored (11) or the assists he had (three) or the minutes he played (30:19). 

What grabbed Starling’s attention was the seventh column after his name — the spot for total rebounds. He finished with a career high and a team high eight. That’s pretty good for a 6-foot-4 guy in his 13th college game.  

“I don’t even remember getting eight,” he said. “I was just trying to attack the ball, be aggressive.” 

Starling made more of an effort to get on the glass at halftime, and made more of an effort to get to the basket. He’s relied too much on his outside shot (he was 1-for-3 Tuesday). When he does, he becomes easy to guard. When he decides to drive it, as he did Tuesday, he becomes tough to guard. 

“I know I can get downhill,” Starling said. “When shots aren’t falling outside, the easiest thing to do is go get a layup.” 

When Starling is good, the Irish are good. It's that simple. There’s nobody on this team that can go and get himself something like Starling can. He did that Tuesday, which is one reason — a big reason— why Notre Dame went for 38 points in what seemed like an explosive offensive second half. 

“I think J.J. Starling’s getting better and more comfortable and in a good rhythm,” Brey said. “He’s improved defensively. He’s moving the ball and playing with it. I’m excited about where he’s at. He has just been really good.” 

Worth noting

Super senior guard Dane Goodwin also needed a game like he had Tuesday. 

Coming in, Goodwin had gone a combined 6-for-29 from the field over his previous four games. He’s gone through slumps in the past and broken out of them. He broke out Tuesday, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-12 from the field. It wasn’t his best, but after the previous four games, it was needed. 

Goodwin has to be good for the Irish to be good. Consider Tuesday a step back in the right direction. A bigger step beckons Friday against Miami. Old guys gotta answer. And step.

Worth quoting

“Even after the ugliest (first) half of college basketball I don’t think we really panicked and guys played.”  Brey after his team bounced back from a forgettable first half for a solid second half. 

By the numbers

1: Number of home wins for Notre Dame in December before Tuesday. That only other one was Dec. 7 against Boston University, which seems like two months ago. 

2: Turnovers committed by Notre Dame in the second half after five miscues in the first. 

7: Largest deficit Notre Dame faced in the first half after making one of its first 10 shots. 

11:36: Time Notre Dame trailed in the first half before it led for the final 12:05 of the game. 

12.5: Percentage Notre Dame shot from 3 in the first half (2-for-16). The Irish missed their first 12 after coming into the contest ranked second in 3-point shooting team in the ACC (.312). Notre Dame finished 7-for-27 (25.9 percent). 

20: Total points in the paint allowed by Notre Dame, which gave up an average of 42 over the previous three games, all losses. Notre Dame finished with 34 paint points. 

21: Points scored by Notre Dame in the first half, second lowest of the season behind only the 20 it slogged its way toward in the loss last month to St. Bonaventure. 

43: A season low for points allowed by Notre Dame, which came into the contest ranked 11th in the 15-team ACC for scoring defense (69.9 ppg.). 

1990: Last time Jacksonville won a game against an ACC school. That year, it beat Maryland, which has since moved to the Big Ten. Last time it beat an ACC school still in the ACC? That would be 1987 when it beat Florida State.  

Next up

It’s back into ACC play from here on out as perhaps the league’s hottest team comes to town for a Friday matinee. That would be No. 14 Miami (Fla.), (12-1) which has won eight straight. That recent run of success includes three league wins, while the Irish look to avoid opening 0-3 in ACC play for the first time since 2020-21 when they started/stumbled 0-5. 

Friday’s game at Purcell Pavilion tips at 2 p.m. (Yeah, we know, that’s 90 minutes before a certain football game of local interest kicks in Jacksonville, Florida. Send all notes of thanks to the ACC office). 

Notre Dame 59, Jacksonville 43

JACKSONVILLE (7-4): Osifo 0-1 0-0 0, Cook 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 3-8 0-0 7, Nolan 3-13 1-2 9, Powell 4-9 4-4 12, O'Hearn 2-7 0-0 5, Payne 5-6 0-0 10, Nesmith 0-0 0-0 0, Deans 0-2 0-0 0, Koureissi 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-49 5-6 43.

NOTRE DAME (8-5): Laszewski 2-5 1-1 5, Goodwin 5-12 0-0 12, Ryan 2-9 1-1 6, Starling 5-11 0-1 11, Wertz 3-7 0-0 6, Hammond 6-11 0-1 15, Lubin 1-4 0-0 2, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Carmody 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0, Wade 0-1 0-0 0, Zona 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-61 2-4 59.

Halftime_Notre Dame 21-19. 3-Point Goals_Jacksonville 4-14 (Nolan 2-6, Davis 1-1, O'Hearn 1-4, Brown 0-1, Powell 0-1), Notre Dame 7-28 (Hammond 3-7, Goodwin 2-5, Starling 1-4, Ryan 1-6, Laszewski 0-3, Wertz 0-3). Rebounds_Jacksonville 36 (Nolan, Payne 9), Notre Dame 26 (Starling 7). Assists_Jacksonville 6 (Nolan 3), Notre Dame 13 (Goodwin, Starling, Hammond 3). Total Fouls_Jacksonville 10, Notre Dame 8.

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