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Notre Dame Basketball

Wertz, Laszewski Lead Late Notre Dame Comeback

November 10, 2022

Radford left Purcell Pavilion with a 63-60 win in 2018 and the Highlanders gave Notre Dame all it wanted on Thursday night. 

The difference in 2022 was Notre Dame's veterans stepped up when it mattered the most to escape 79-76 to open the season. 

Fifth-year senior Trey Wertz, who finished with 18 points, three rebounds and four assists, found classmate Cormac Ryan in transition for a layup with 9.5 seconds to play to give the Irish a lead of 77-76. 

It was a veteran play, but Wertz also knew Notre Dame held a 5-on-4 advantage as Radford guard DaQuan Smith went down with an injury following a missed shot. 

"The Radford player came down and shot a tough shot over two people/ When we got the rebound, I saw there was a little bit of a scuffle," Wertz recalled. "I saw him fall down for a split second and I got the outlet. I was pushing it. I probed it, crossed the floor and everyone was telling me to hurry up and push it, but I was waiting. C-Mac (Cormac Ryan) came into the picture, fired it to him and he made a good play to lay it in." 

The game-winning play wasn't Wertz's only big play of the night. Notre Dame was down by as many as nine points in the second half and trailing 61-56, Wertz hit back-to-back threes giving the Irish some much-needed momentum with just over six minutes to play. 

"I think they came at key times for us," Wertz said. "The game was kind of getting away from us a little bit and I knew we needed to get a couple of buckets to bring it back in. 

"I just put the onus on myself. When the looks came, I just took them. It was nice to knock them down." 

Irish head coach Mike Brey was also pleased with Wertz's efforts as he filled in as a starter for the injured Marcus Hammond. 

"I'm very proud of Trey Wertz," said Brey. "I told Trey Wertz the other day when we knew Marcus would be down. I said, 'Trey, don't give the position back. Take it.' Well, he dang sure put an exclamation on it. 

"He's played that seventh-man role and sometimes he played 20 minutes, sometimes he played 12. He never really complained about it. I've got a lot of respect for him and I'm thrilled for him. He's a calming presence up there with the ball." 

Nate Laszewski could have bypassed this year for the professional ranks, but he returned for a fifth season in the blue and gold.

And it started with a bang as the 6-foot-10 forward led all scorers with 28 points and 12 rebounds, which included Laszewski going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line.

Laszewski was quick to point out that his preparation led to the big night as he not only worked hard in practice, but also spent time in the film room with assistant Hamlet Tibbs. 

"I was just trying to play off my teammates," Laszewski stated. "Trey getting in the lane, Dane (Goodwin) curling on single-double actions and trying to pick my spots. When they were helping, my teammates did a great job finding me, so it was nice to play with them tonight." 

The performance didn't necessarily catch Brey off guard, but it's a game Laszewski's head coach wouldn't mind him having every night. 

"Laszewski - go ahead and get 30 and 15, baby," said Brey. "Just go get 30 and 15. 

"I think he's adjusted his game driving, getting in there and getting fouled. He's calm." 

Notre Dame held a 40-39 halftime lead, but Radford blitzed the Irish over the first 10 minutes of the second half. 

In fact, the Highlanders held a 57-58 lead with 10:23 left in the game as Notre Dame struggled to find any offensive rhythm. 

Yet the offense wasn’t the biggest concern for Brey’s club as the Irish had significant issues defending the pick and roll and letting Radford’s guards attack the middle of the paint. 

"They got out of the gate on us,” Brey explained. “They got to our paint. We got screwed up trying to go over the top. Then we started to switch and we probably didn't help our guys as a coaching staff enough with all the action in the middle of the floor with the ball screen dribble handoff and the big guy rolling. 

"I think we got it straight. As a staff, you live and you learn too. I think we got it straight in the last four minutes to get enough stops. We just switched everything." 

Zone defense can be used in a variety of ways and it’s not necessarily a negative thing in college basketball (Look at Syracuse). That said, Notre Dame had to go to zone because Radford’s guards were penetrating and getting shots off the dribble in the first half. 

Brey went to a 1-3-1 and matchup zone to slow down the pace, but then in the second half the Irish switched it up as Radford hit six first half three balls. 

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