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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Strong shooting guides Irish to 86-65 win over Western Michigan

If you had to pinpoint one specific area in which Notre Dame men’s basketball has struggled early in the season, it would likely be that their shots simply haven’t fallen. After being mired in a shooting slump for most of the year — specifically in recent losses to South Carolina and Miami that saw them combine to make just 12 of 53 three-pointers — the Irish snapped out of it on Tuesday night. They posted their best offensive effort of the young season while coasting to an 86-65 win at home over Western Michigan.

Notre Dame made nearly 60% of its field goal attempts and shot over 40% from beyond the three-point line, and they did it with a balanced effort. Four Irish players scored at least 14 points. Those four — sophomore forward Tae Davis, junior guard Julian Roper II and freshmen guards Markus Burton and Braeden Shrewsberry — combined to score 66 points while shooting a scorching 74% from the floor. That impressive scoring efficiency proved enough to push the Irish past the Broncos for their fourth win of the season.

“Just our hunger from losing,” Roper II said about the Irish’s motivation leading up to Tuesday’s game. “We knew we definitely could have beat Miami. We just fell short, and we just wanted to come back and bring it out tonight and try to keep it rolling.”

It was Davis who got things started for Notre Dame on Tuesday, scoring six points in the game’s first four minutes on his way to a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double. That marked the third straight game in double figures for Davis, who has emerged as an offensive centerpiece for the Irish.

“He’s just getting more and more confident as it goes. I kind of expected this from him,” Irish head coach Micah Shrewsberry said about Davis’s recent play. “He’s getting good at attacking closeouts, he’s reading things, getting to the rim. The next stage for him is now to develop his playmaking even more. But he’s playing really confident and we’ve got to keep him here. He’s playing with great effort.

Despite the strong start from Davis, the Broncos went stride for stride with the Irish at the start of the game and trailed 11-10 after a fast-paced opening four minutes. Needing a spark, Notre Dame got one in the form of Braeden Shrewsberry, who entered the game after the first media timeout and proceeded to drill a pair of threes in less than two minutes.

Shrewsberry would serve as a long-range threat throughout the game, finishing with a career-high 16 points on four three-pointers. Micah Shrewsberry praised the work ethic of his son, who struggled to find his shot at the start of the season but showed signs of being the prolific marksman the Irish hoped he would be on Tuesday.

“He’s a confident kid. He’s not going to let off-shooting nights really bother him,” Micah Shrewsberry said of Braeden. “This dude is in the gym non-stop, working on his shot … So he’s not going to stray away from letting it go.”

Behind Davis and Shrewsberry, who combined for more than half of Notre Dame’s first half scoring, the Irish held the Broncos at bay for most of the first 20 minutes, but could not find the consistency needed to pull away. After a 9-0 Irish run stretched their lead to 15, Western Michigan responded to cut the deficit all the way down to three in the final seconds of the period.

With all of Notre Dame’s momentum seemingly fading, Roper II buried a three-pointer as time expired in the half to send the Irish to the locker room with a 40-34 lead. That shot provided a spark for a team that badly needed one.

“It was a big shot, going into the half, just to stop the momentum,” Roper II said. “It kind of got me going and it got us going on the right track going into the second half.”

Roper II scored just five points before halftime but broke out for nine in the second half, including a burst early in the period that saw him knock down a three-pointer, grab a defensive rebound on the other end of the floor, before eventually taking the ball coast to coast for a dunk. With Notre Dame hanging onto a thin five-point lead, that sequence doubled their advantage and gave them a firm grip on the game that they would never relinquish.

“Coach [Shrewsberry] was telling me that I was just thinking about doing too much, to just go out there and play like how I know how to play,” Roper II said about his mentality in the second half. “And so I just took that with me in the second half and my teammates pushed me to just play, just come out and hoop. So that’s what I did.”

Bolstered by Roper II, Davis and Shrewsberry, the Irish continued building their lead, which ballooned to 17 early in the half after a Burton three-pointer. Burton is known primarily to Irish fans as a scorer after posting a record-setting 29 points in his Notre Dame debut, but he continued to show off his impressive playmaking chops on Tuesday.

Effectively capitalizing on the Broncos defense's heightened attention, Burton drove-and-dished his way to five assists before halftime. With Western Michigan keyed in on other Irish scorers after halftime, Burton took advantage, finishing the day with 17 points on just six shots.

“I thought he was great. The hard thing for a young guy — especially a young guy who can really score the ball — is constantly making the right play,” Shrewsberry said of Burton. “You’re seeing the growth from him and he’s a big part of what we do, scoring and getting assists.”

After Roper II’s individual 5-0 run, Western Michigan would only get within single figures one more time, and the Irish ultimately eased their way to an 86-65 victory, recording their top scoring output and largest margin of victory of the season and improving to 4-4.

For a team as young as Notre Dame, every win counts. That’s especially true when Saturday’s road game against No. 8 Marquette is next up on the docket, with a gauntlet of matchups against tough ACC opponents waiting down the road.

Notre Dame had lots of room for improvement on Tuesday. They had too many slow-developing offensive possessions that ended with a forced shot attempt late in the shot clock, faced foul trouble for much of the night and struggled to defend the paint.

But the Irish won — and did so handily — and there were far more positives than negatives. That represents a step in the right direction for Shrewsberry’s team, and one they’ll look to build on in the days and weeks to come.

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