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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame hoops pounds overmatched Nazareth

October 29, 2021

New-look Notre Dame finally got a chance Friday night to show its changes against a fresh opponent.

The Irish basketball team opened the exhibition portion of its 2021-22 schedule with a resounding, 87-37 win against visiting Nazareth College, an NCAA Division III program that competes in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference.

A pair of newcomers shined for Notre Dame, which is beginning its 22nd season under the program's all-time winningest coach, Mike Brey.

Transfer post Paul Atkinson and freshman four-star signee Blake Wesley spurred the Irish romp with a combined 26 points.

Atkinson, a skilled big who arrived earlier this year as a graduate-transfer from Yale, posted a double-double – 15 points, 10 rebounds – in less than 25 minutes on the floor. Atkinson was 7-for-11 from the floor, hit the only 3-pointer he attempted and also doled out a pair of assists.

In all, six Irish players scored in double figures – Cormac Ryan's 16 led all scorers – but it was their defense that most pleased Brey.

Nazareth was limited to 15-for-65 shooting from the field, a mark that included just 3-for-28 from long distance, and also was harried into 13 turnovers.

“You know I think the communication, our talk is better, our positioning is better,” Brey said. “Certainly, physically they (the Golden Flyers) were mismatched, it was a mismatch, but it was like a defensive drill because they're going to run their pattern like a lot of these exhibition teams come in and run their stuff.

“We're trying to keep it out of the middle, we're moving our feet; I think we do a better job, which we've been after them about. Physically, we should be able to move our feet on these guys. Our defensive rebounding, which has always been suspect, is still a little interesting but we're working.”

Notre Dame, which opens its regular season Nov. 13 against Cal State Northridge, raced to a 49-13 halftime edge against the overpowered Golden Flyers, who entered after a truncated 8-4 2020-21 campaign but posted a 21-6 mark in 2019-20.

Nate Laszewski had 11 points and eight boards for the Irish in 27 minutes on the floor while fellow senior, Prentiss Hubb, hit on 4-for-10 triples and closed with a dozen points while he also handed out seven assists.

But it was the newcomer Wesley that left Brey gushing in postgame. A local newcomer, along with fellow freshman signee JR Konieczny, Wesley punctuated his arrival to the college scene with an early dunk and hit five of the eight shots he attempted, as well as his lone free throw.

“After three practices in the summer, I'm like, 'Wow!,'” Brey said of Wesley. “His feel for the game. Willingness to defend. Unselfish and great passer. He gets to 15 (feet) and shoots it and there is a great vibe about him. He is an early substitute and, heck, he could be a starter.

“At one point, JR and Blake were standing next to each other under the bucket, and I remember they were visiting when they were in 11th grade shooting on one of those buckets on a football Saturday morning. And I told them, 'We get both you guys, we're just gonna introduce you from the Bend. We're not even going to say South Bend.'”

It wasn't just a debut for new Irish players; Brey drastically overhauled his coaching staff after an 11-15 season a year ago which kept Notre Dame's last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017.

Brey added Anthony Solomon and Antoni Wyche as his floor assistants

“You heard 'Ice, Blue, Corral,'” Brey said. “We have a whole new language that started in June. We had 10 practices in summer, and 20 to date as of yesterday (this preseason). We've had 30 practices, and we've ben grinding them up with these habits.

“The carryover from what we've been talking about was really good. Especially on the defensive end.”

Notre Dame hosts St. Norbert College next Friday in its exhibition finale. The Irish played this contest without veteran guard Trey Wertz, whom Brey said twisted an ankle but was expected to return Monday.

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