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Notre Dame Basketball

Irish pull away, lift Brey to milestone win

November 16, 2021

About an hour before tipoff Tuesday night, Tubby Smith was strolling the hallways of Purcell Pavilion.

Head coach of visiting High Point University, Smith had never lost a head-to-head matchup opposite Notre Dame head man Mike Brey.

It hardly was a basketball clinic, but the Fighting Irish improved to 2-0 with a 70-61 win against the Panthers (1-2).

In the process, they helped Brey notch his 450th career win atop the Irish program – and first in five tries against Smith, the former national championship-winning University of Kentucky coach.

Notre Dame did so again with its renewed emphasis on defense, which harassed High Point into just 9-for-32 shooting in the second half (28.1) and 21-for-59 total (35.6).

A year after it allowed opponents to average 74.3 points per game, Notre Dame has limited its two initial foes to 56.5 ppg.

“It's totally different,” said senior guard Cormac Ryan, who had 10 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals. “We've put a lot of focus on defending; we knew that was an area of growth for us last year. I think it's going to be not only an area of growth but a strength for us.

“I think that's going to be a weapon for us, and I also think it will make us a better offensive team, too.”

The Irish trailed at the half, were abysmal from behind the arc throughout the game and missed 11 of 27 free throws.

But they got a trio of double-doubles from Paul Atkinson Jr, Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski in the win.

The Yale transfer Atkinson, ill with what Brey termed was flu-like symptoms the previous two days, nonetheless worked the Panthers for 19 points and 11 boards in almost 30 minutes on the floor.

Laszewski closed with a career-high 16 boards and 10 points; Goodwin followed up his 18-point opening-game effort with a dozen points and 11 rebounds.

“Paul and Dane didn't even practice (Monday); I hadn't seen Paul in two days,” Brey said. “That's pretty good for rolling outta bed and having a fever Sunday. I give them a lot of credit. This morning early I was wondering what we were going to get from them.”

Actually, Brey still wasn't sure when halftime arrived, his team trailed, 33-32, and Atkinson had just five points and rebounds.

So Brey challenged his 6-foot-8 post.

“He is really focused,” Brey said. “He's got a great way about him; I don't see him ever being nervous, watching him before the game now that I've coached him in a couple of games.

“I just jumped him a little bit at halftime and said, 'Hey, you're not sick anymore, let's go. Let's go. Your fluids are in you. Let's roll.' (He said) 'I gotcha, I gotcha.' There's a great maturity about him; he's a man.”

Notre Dame last trailed 36-34 before it finally uncorked a decisive run that put away High Point, which was hammered 95-60 last Friday at Northwestern.

The Irish initiated their run with at Atkinson bucket followed by a pair of free throws from Atkinson, and it extended the binge with six points from Ryan in what became a 13-0 run for a 47-36 edge.

John-Michael Wright and Jaden House paced High Point with 17 points apiece.

Still, Notre Dame got just 11 points from its two-man bench of Trey Wertz (seven) and freshman Blake Wesley (four). It also went just 3-for-20 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 6-for-31 from distance.

The Irish have gone 17-for-58 (29.3) from 3-point range in two games.

Notre Dame begins play Monday in the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas against St. Mary's, and it likely would face Oregon in its second game as the Ducks open with the tournament's official host, Chaminade.

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