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Notre Dame Basketball

Mooney's Passing Assists Irish

January 3, 2020
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No one’s going to confuse the nation’s leading rebounder with a point-forward on the basketball hardwood.

But Notre Dame’s John Mooney, like all of the Fighting Irish’s starters, already owns double-digit assists on the season and a 2-to-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio (24-12).

So perhaps Mooney can lobby for some additional ball-handling skills Saturday when Notre Dame (9-4) visits Syracuse (8-5) inside the Carrier Dome (4 p.m., ESPN2).

“Little bit, need to talk to Coach about that,” said Mooney, laughing about the prospect of running the Irish offense.

Mooney’s 13.5 rebounds-per-game are tied for tops in the nation, and the Irish collectively lead the NCAA with a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Still, they’re seeking their first win of the 2019-20 season away from Purcell Pavilion when they face the Orange, and prizing possessions while making smart passes against the Syracuse zone will be a key.

In Mooney and Juwan Durham, Notre Dame’s starting front-court presents a pair of capable passers.

“They do, no question,” ND coach Mike Brey said of the tandem’s passing skills. “I mean, that’s probably one of the great … I knew our guards would be good with the ball, those three guys, because they were in the top 10 in the league, assist to turnover last year before Rex went down. Johnny Mooney has come a long way with his decision-making with the ball, and Juwan is a very underrated passer.”

Brey believes Durham actually can pass less and potentially help the Irish more.

“As a matter of fact, he’s too unselfish. Sometimes I think (Durham) should dunk it on somebody and he wants to flip it to someone,” Brey said. “He’s just so unselfish. Nate (Laszewski) is the one guy who needs to be better with the ball, but right now, we have him making safe passes. Make safe passes, get your feet set and get ready to shoot and go to the offensive board.

“Don’t try to be a playmaker, because you ain’t a playmaker. Just get rid of it and go get your feet set, get it to one of the guys who can get it back to you.”

Mooney points not to any specific work he has done to improve his skills but rather to the offensive flow Notre Dame is working to sustain this season.

“I really think it’s just my teammates, moving,” Mooney said. “I think just as a whole we’re better together than we were last year, we’re cutting and moving without the ball. When guys are moving, it’s easier to pass the ball. That kind of goes for everyone.

“We just tied the assist record (last month with 33 in a win against Detroit) and when guys are making open shots and moving without the ball, it’s easier to pass the ball.”

Fifth-year senior Rex Pflueger sees in Mooney a more complete player who is using both his basketball intelligence and skill-set to fuel the Irish.

“He’s just become an overall better basketball player,” said Pflueger, who hit the game-winning shot with two seconds to play in Notre Dame’s win at Syracuse two years ago. “His intellectual game’s come into his skills, too, where he’s started mixing and matching, making the right plays at the right time.”

What’s becoming instinctual for Mooney on the court is, in part, borne from his conversations with Brey and assistant coach Ryan Humphrey.

“We talk, Coach Hump and Coach Brey and I, we talk about, when the other team double-teams, that just creates more opportunities for our team,” said Mooney, now with 31 career double-doubles including 10 in 12 games this season. “That’s just a matter of getting it out of the post and maybe a quick swing and someone should be open.”

Mooney makes it sound simple. For the Irish, it’s similar to their approach for this game.

“We need this one, no doubt; to start this new year off right, on a good note, is something we’re definitely striving for,” Mooney said.

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