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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Irish open season with pair of wins

Notre Dame showed few signs of a slow start in its regular-season opening weekend at Purcell Pavilion, as the Irish cruised to an 82-39 win over Binghamton on Friday and a 92-53 victory over Navy on Sunday.

Notre Dame (2-0) won its first two matchups behind an offense that shot more than 55 percent from the field, a defense that held its opponents to less than 30 percent combined and a balanced attack that saw four players scored in the double digits in each game.

“We can move the ball and we have a lot of guys that can score it, and we passed it unselfishly, so I told them, ‘I think we got better in a 48-hour window,’” Irish coach Mike Brey said Sunday.

Notre Dame had its lowest-scoring half of the weekend in the first half Sunday, when the Irish shot 48 percent from the field and held an eight-point lead over Navy (0-2) at the break. But the Irish broke open the game in a second half during which they outscored Navy, 56-25.

“For us to methodically defend [Navy] and then put 56 on them to get it there, that’s one heck of a 20 minutes for us,” Brey said. “I didn’t think we could do that to this team, just score that much against them.”

Junior forward Zach Auguste scored 20 points, his collegiate career-high, in 19 minutes.

“I want to be the main guy in the middle,” Auguste said. “I think I have a great impact on the game, but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates. They’ve been finding me. I’ve just been hanging around the hoop, and they’ve been finding me. They’re great distributors.”

Senior guard Jerian Grant added 17 points and 10 assists for a double-double. Senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton and sophomore forward V.J. Beachem rounded out the double-digit scoring, totaling 13 and 10 points, respectively.

“We’re just moving the ball,” Grant said. “Nobody cares who’s getting the points, who’s getting the assists, who’s getting the rebounds — we’re just all spreading it out, and that’s a fun way to play. We’re running a lot more, we’re getting the ball in the post, and it’s coming out, so everybody gets to get the ball in their hands.”

Behind a double-double from Connaughton and a 14-point effort from Grant, Notre Dame rolled to an 82-39 win over the Bearcats (0-1) on Friday.

After falling behind 3-2 in the game’s opening minute, Notre Dame scored the next 18 points, jumping out to a 20-3 lead with 12:20 remaining in the first half.

The Irish, starting four guards and one forward, pressured Binghamton at the top of the key early and scored 12 first-half points off nine turnovers to take a 41-23 lead into the break.

Notre Dame forced 19 turnovers altogether, including 14 steals, five of which came from Grant.

Brey said Notre Dame’s defense is structured to put such pressure on opponents.

“One thing you say we can do is we can pressure the ball and contest,” he said. “Our defense will pick it up and look further out, and it’s not as much stay in front; we’re getting out at people.”

The Irish showed few signs of slowing down to start the second half, as they opened it on a 13-3 run. Notre Dame took its biggest lead with 2:17 remaining in the game, when a jumper from freshman forward Bonzie Colson gave the Irish a 44-point cushion.

Auguste finished with 19 points, while Connaughton had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Brey said Notre Dame’s four-guard offense allows the Irish to better distribute the ball.

“Our best years have been when we’ve been able to spread that floor in four around one and have some drivers and one guy in the post. … Right now, Zach has done a great job, [knowing] when to kick it out, when to score,” Brey said.

Connaughton achieved a personal milestone in the second half Friday night, scoring his 1,000th career point on a 3-point shot with 16:09 left in the game. Connaughton became the 56th player in Notre Dame history to join the 1,000-point club.

Brey added a personal milestone of his own against Binghamton, earning his 400th collegiate win. His first came as head coach of Delaware in 1995.

“I’ve had a heck of a lot of good players [at Delaware and Notre Dame], and I’ve read really good coaches ” he said. “I’ve been lucky.”

All 13 players on Notre Dame’s roster suited up for the Irish over the weekend. Four freshmen — forward Martinas Geben, guard Matt Farrell, forward Matt Gregory and Colson — all made their collegiate debuts Friday.

Notre Dame will return to action Wednesday night when the Irish host Coppin State at 7 p.m.