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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Balanced attack leads Notre Dame to win in exhibition opener

Four Irish players hit double digits Friday night as No. 18 Notre Dame topped St. Francis (Illinois), 87-56, in its exhibition opener at Purcell Pavilion.

Sophomore forward Bonzie Colson led the Irish with 12 points, while junior guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia and sophomore guard Matt Farrell chipped in 10 apiece in the winning effort.

Junior guard Demetrius Jackson drives to the basket during Notre Dame’s 65-60 loss to Syracuse on Feb. 25 at Purcell Pavilion.
Observer File Photo
Observer File Photo
Junior guard Demetrius Jackson drives to the basket during Notre Dame’s 65-60 loss to Syracuse on Feb. 25 at Purcell Pavilion.

Though the final score shows a blowout win for the Irish, the first four minutes of the contest were far from it, as the Fighting Saints jumped out to an 11-6 advantage just past the 16:00 mark of the first half.

Farrell delivered a spark coming out of the media timeout, however, going 3-for-3 from the field for seven points in a four-minute span to help spur Notre Dame to a 17-0 run to put the Irish ahead for good.

“If I’m open, I’m going to take the shot,” Farrell, who finished 4-for-5 from the field, said. “I don’t want to admit that I look to pass first, but I like getting my teammates involved. That’s something I’ve always done. If I’m open I’m going to take the shot. I’m going to do whatever it takes to put the ball in the basket, whether that’s by myself or setting my teammates up.”

While the Irish began the game with their expected starting five on the floor — Jackson, Vasturia, junior forward V.J. Beachem, Colson and senior forward Zach Auguste — it didn’t take long for head coach Mike Brey to go to his bench. Sophomore forward Martinas Geben was the first off the bench when Auguste picked up his second foul just three minutes and 10 seconds into the game, while Farrell checked in shortly thereafter.

All 12 scholarship players saw action in the first half, which the Irish finished on a 36-8 run for a 42-19 halftime advantage.

The second half featured much of the same — all 12 scholarship players saw significant time on the floor, as the Irish maintained their lead, holding a 45-37 advantage in the second half en route to the 31-point victory.

Brey said he got a solid performance out of his reserves today and noted the rotation still isn’t set for the regular season.

“The blueshirts played tonight in the game like they played in practice,” Brey said. “I was really pleased with how they played.

“ … We’ve got a lot to work with and a little bit more time to figure out what our rotation is but I thought the guys got in there and did what they were supposed to do.”

While the Irish turned the ball over 15 times, Jackson said securing the ball isn’t an area of concern after just one exhibition.

“Obviously, we take pride in taking care of the ball,” Jackson said. “Guys were just really excited to get out there, especially myself, just to get out there and play. Our team’s a work in progress, so we’re going to continue to get better in that aspect, but I don’t think it’s a worry right now. We just need to clean it up and be sharp, and as the games keep going and as we keep getting better, those things will fix themselves.”

The Irish were, however, solid on the offensive glass, posting a 44.1 percent offensive rebound rate (15-for-34) in the exhibition opener.

All three scholarship freshmen, guard Rex Pflueger and forwards Matt Ryan and Elijah Burns, saw action for the Irish.

“It was just nice to play against somebody else,” Ryan said. “We dominated the glass, we played together … I think we made some progress today.”

Last year the Irish started guard/forward Pat Connaughton at the “stretch four” power forward position, and Brey said this year’s personnel factors a little different — Colson has moved into the four spot in the starting lineup, affecting the spacing in Notre Dame’s offense.

“We are still a work in progress on how Zach (Auguste) and Bonzie (Colson) space off of each other,” Brey said. “But as you saw tonight we subbed a couple of times, and we got to one big guy. Is it Matt Ryan or V.J. Beachem in your Pat Connaughton spot where you really stretch? It’s good to downshift sometimes. That’s why I’m encouraged when a Matt Farrell is doing well, because he goes in and we can downshift. With Matt Ryan or Rex Pflueger, we can also downshift when those guys go in.”

Notre Dame is back in action Thursday at 7 p.m., when it hosts Caldwell in another exhibition, before starting its regular season Nov. 13 at Purcell Pavilion against St. Francis (Pennsylvania).