Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Irish Get Defensive in Final Tuneup

November 1, 2019
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Maybe ugly is the new beautiful for Notre Dame basketball.

The Fighting Irish, wrapping up their two-game exhibition slate Friday night with a 61-51 win against Bellarmine inside Purcell Pavilion, are preparing to enter the 2019-20 season with a renewed --- perhaps brand-new --- emphasis on a defensive identity.

“I think, defensively, we have a chance to be special,” said senior post John Mooney. “When five guys on the floor are locking in and playing team defense, I really think we can be really good. We showed that (Friday) against a really good offensive team. That’s a team that went to Louisville and almost took it to them.”

The Knights, who saw host Louisville need a 9-1 run to close them out earlier this week in a 75-65 defeat, similarly never withered against Notre Dame, which took an early 12-2 lead and held the lead for 38 minutes, 11 seconds of the 40-minute regulation.

Though the Irish did not shoot particularly well, making only eight of 31 3-point attempts and nine of 15 free throws, they rebounded with purpose, got a combined 25 boards and 24 points from Juwan Durham and John Mooney, and they closed out the Knights with Rex Pflueger’s steal-and-layup at the minute-mark.

Durham also notched five of the Irish’s seven blocked shots, and Notre Dame harassed the veteran Bellarmine squad, ranked third in the National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA Division II Poll, into a dozen turnovers.

“In our program, we have not been the defensive program; we’ve been more of an offensive group that can score it and shoot it,” said 20th-year Irish head coach Mike Brey. “We’ve gone in and out of being good defensively.

“I think this could be the best group we have defensively because we have guys that know how to move together and stay in front. We’ve got the shot-blocker (Durham) in the back.”

Durham and Mooney had a prodigious combined plus-minus of plus-35; 16 of their 25 boards were on the defensive end to limit Bellarmine possessions.

Pflueger made his first two buckets since coming back from injury for his fifth year ahead of schedule, and he tallied three assists as well as three steals.

Prentiss Hubb showcased a revamped long-range shot, and the guard led all scorers with 18 points in a game-high 38 minutes.

“I feel confident about our team, that even though when we’re missing shots, the defensive end can always turn to offense,” Hubb said. “I think early we went up like 10-2 and started to miss shots, but we didn’t really give up on the defensive end. We were able to always stay disciplined and do our thing.”

Hubb echoed the defensive buy-in.

“I really do think we can be special defensively, especially like me and other guys pressing the ball up and just making it harder for ball-handler to start their offense for them,” Hubb said. “We have Juwan and Mooney back there blocking shots and rebounding, and I think we can be really special.”

The Irish trailed 19-18 before they closed the first half on an 11-3 run. Dane Goodwin penetrated and hit a floating baseline-jumper for a 30-21 edge at the break. Notre Dame quickly led by 13, 39-26, in the second half, but the Knights never wilted.

Though he might have second-guessed himself at times for the rigorous preseason test, Brey got exactly what he had wanted from his squad’s final tuneup before Wednesday’s national showdown at No. 9 North Carolina in the Dean Dome (7 p.m., ACC Network).

The Irish finished 22-for-63 from the field, but Brey was heartened by the group’s collective defensive work.

“I watched 10 minutes of tape on them Wednesday and I said, ‘We could be in trouble,’ Brey said of Bellarmine. “To have game pressure on us [was important], but I do think we’re an experienced team. They know each other, our guys know how to play defense together, talking together. That’s saving us right now.

“I think we’ll make more open shots; we have in practice. If we can rely on guarding like that and doing it unselfishly, I think that can help us.”

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Final Box Score 

 

 
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