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Notre Dame Basketball

Wesley's world: Notre Dame freshman erupts in Irish win

November 13, 2021
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Blake Wesley scored his first collegiate points less than 30 seconds after checking into Saturday's game inside Purcell Pavilion.

Wesley likewise scored the game's final points. He took a run-out pass in transition, Euro-stepped and finished with a finger roll.

In between, the South Bend, Indiana, native and Notre Dame freshman scored 16 additional points, and he finished with 21 in the Fighting Irish's 68-52 season-opening win against visiting Cal-State Northridge.

“The coaches are like, 'Just be me. Play like I am. Don't overthink anything,'” Wesley said after his 21-point, 7-for-10 shooting debut. “Because in practice I kind of overdo stuff, and when I get in the game, I like do it perfectly. Just play as me.”

The win made Notre Dame (1-0) a perfect 22-0 in home openers under Mike Brey and instantly stamped the heralded Wesley as ready for the college game.

Paul Atkinson Jr., the Yale graduate-transfer, added 16 points in his Irish debut – though it was Atkinson's 31st consecutive game in double figures in his career – and Dane Goodwin closed with 18 points after he went 6-for-8 from distance.

The veteran trio of Nate Laszewski, Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan combined to score just eight points in the victory, but also had a dozen rebounds and eight assists.

The offensive-minded Brey pointed to Notre Dame's defense after the game. The Matadors (0-2) were limited to 44% shooting from the floor, shot only six free throws and were forced into 16 turnovers.

“I think we can rely on our defense a little bit more,” Brey said. “We've improved there. It's been an unbelievable point of emphasis through the summer and through the fall. I told them, 'God, they're in the 50s. Let's see if we can keep people in the 50s.' And field-goal percentage defense low. I think we can rely on that. We have been on it hard, they've been amazingly receptive.

“They know they're good offensively. Then you add Atkinson and Wesley, those dudes can play. Now we just move it, share it, take a good one. But on that other end, can we make it harder for people defensively? And I think we're making progress there.”

Ahead just 39-33 after a 32-26 halftime edge, Notre Dame assembled an 18-4 run that put away the Matadors. Notre Dame didn't get its first double-digit lead, 43-33, until seven-plus minutes into the second half.

Goodwin hit a pair of treys during the run, Trey Wertz added another triple and Wesley nabbed his first collegiate dunk – a two-handed slam off his baseline-drive – and the Irish finally exhaled.

The Atkinson-Goodwin-Wesley trio outscored the Matadors, 55-52, as they combined to hit 19 of their 28 shots.

Overall, Notre Dame handed out 14 assists and peaked offensively in the second half, when the Irish shot 62% (13-21) from the field.

“Brey touched on that after the game, Coach Brey, just being unselfish,” Goodwin said. “We're at that point now where it's about winning games, not the stat-line that we come up with. Certain nights it's going to be different guys.

“Certainly, (Hubb-Laszewski-Ryan) didn't have their best (scoring) games but they brought it when they needed to and they really helped on the defensive end, rebounding, passing, everything else that comes with playing. Just being unselfish, as a group moving forward, that's what we gotta do.”

Up next for Notre Dame is home game Tuesday ( 8 p.m., ACC Network) against High Point before the Irish travel to Las Vegas to begin play Nov. 22 in the Maui Invitational, temporarily relocated due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Hawaii.

 
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