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Notre Dame Basketball

Markus Burton Leads Notre Dame to Gritty Win in Shrewsberry's Debut

November 6, 2023
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The Micah Shrewsberry era got off to a slow start, which led Purcell Pavilion to have some early emotions as Niagara (0-1) took a 12-2 lead five minutes into the contest.

Notre Dame (1-0) then found its defense. Trailing 18-8 with 10:55 left in the opening 20 minutes, the Irish got stops, which led to offense and a 9-0 run to pull back into the game. 

Freshman Markus Burton led that charge with five points on his way to a game-high 29 points, which set a new program record for points in a debut as broke LaPhonso Ellis’ mark of 27 points in Notre Dame’s 70-63 victory. 

Burton finished the game 11-for-20 from the field, 6-of-6 from the free throw line, four rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes. 

“I put the work in, so it just comes naturally,” Burton said. “My team trusts me to do what I do and the coaching staff trusts me to do what I do. When they trust you and you have everybody behind you, then you don’t have to worry about anything. I was out there having fun. I was just doing what it took to help my team win the game.” 

It wasn’t all peaches and cream for Burton as he didn’t come out on fire, but Shrewsberry was fine with it as Greg Paulus challenged Notre Dame’s young guards on Monday night. Notre Dame showcased aggressive cutting in its exhibition win last week, but there was little of that against Niagara. 

In fact, Burton’s drives to the rim were the only positive for the Irish offense at times. 

“I thought struggled early,” stated Shrewsberry. “It was something new. How they came out and how they guarded us was new. Those are going to be adjustments he has to make on the fly in front of everybody. He’s at home and doing this. 

“He showed his toughness when he kept going and going. They took away what we wanted to do and how we wanted to play. They forced us to play one-on-one. That’s why we only had nine assists. We’re not a nine assist team. I know one thing, he’s a good one-on-one player.” 

Notre Dame did trail 30-29 at the break and Shrewsberry got into his team at halftime to up the level of play and to get stops. 

Defense has been preached all offseason and the Irish dug deep in the final 20 minutes to get key stops, which was important as the Irish were just 3-for-17 from three for the game. 

Freshman Carey Booth gave Notre Dame its first lead at 41-40 just over six minutes into the second half and Julian Roper II capped off the 8-0 run to extend the lead to 45-40. 

Burton then made his presence felt again as he would score 16 points in a six-minute stretch to give the Irish some breathing room. 

“At halftime, Coach Shrews told us we had to lock in and fight,” explained Burton. “When he said that, all of us, not just me, the whole starting five, we went out in the second half and showed fight. We got a lot of stops on the defensive end and it allowed me to get going and get my teammates going too. It was a team thing.” 

During that stretch, the Irish defense held Niagara scoreless for over three and a half minutes. 

The Purple Eagles kept the Irish on pins and needles until about the four-minute mark and the Notre Dame defense showed up once again. Ahmad Henderson II scored on a layup with 4:05 remaining in the game to pull Niagara within 63-61. Niagara wouldn’t score again until Braxton Bayless scored with 10 seconds left in the game. 

Sophomore Tae Davis had two massive defensive stops for the Irish and provided the momentum to close the game out, which can serve as a building block for the 2023-24 season. 

“You’re team gets better when you go through teams together,” explained Shrewsberry. “It’s one thing to be running the steps of the stadium in July, but it’s another thing to be down in the home opener. You gotta grind it out and win. 

“This gave us hope that we can get stops when we need to. Different guys did it. A lot of guys were wanting to take on a challenge. I thought Julian Roper II a few times raised his hand to say I’ll take him. He wanted to guard him. I was telling Jack (Swarbrick), I was yelling at Coach (Mike) Farrelly to put Logan Imes on that kid because he’s tough as nails. I’ve seen him guard and I know he’s going to fight through screens. He’s going to keep going. 

“Now, we start to get a belief. We don’t have to make shots. We were 3-for-17 from three. We don’t have to make shots to win. If we make shots, good night. We can knuckle up and get stops to get the job done.” 

For the game, Notre Dame held Niagara to 42 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Purple Eagles 35-29. Booth led the Irish in rebounds with nine off the bench while adding 10 points. 

Notre Dame ended the night shooting 51 percent from the field with 48 points in the paint and 13-of-16 from the free throw line. 

NO KEBBA, NO PROBLEM
Notre Dame sophomore forward Kebba Njie missed the season opener as he suffered a hand injury in practice on Saturday. Shrewsberry admitted it was less than ideal timing as the Irish only had one practice before the Niagara game and it put a lot of pressure on Matt Zona and Booth to raise their level of play, but also step into more significant roles. 

“I’m proud of those guys for adjusting,” explained Shrewsberry. “I put more onus on Zona. Carey Booth hadn’t had to practice at the 5 since he got here. He had one practice and did an admiral job at both ends and what they were doing was so completely different than anything we practice, so now they’re outside of our system. We’re trying to play on the fly, so hats off to those guys.” 

As for when Njie could return, it seems like he’ll be out for at least a few games, but it’s not something Shrewsberry expects to linger long-term. 

“Kebba’s not day-to-day, but it’s not super bad,” stated Shrewsberry. “There’s a guy from Georgetown that’s 4-6 weeks. It’s not that bad. We’ll be without him, but we don’t know how long until we get a better read on everything in the next couple of days.” 

GRITTY
When Shrewsberry took the job, Notre Dame was in full rebuild mode as he needed to essentially fill out an entire roster. It’s a tough task to find players who fit his system, but then to find chemistry in only a few short months. 

The Notre Dame staff has emphasized defense, but also effort and that was on full display in Monday’s win. 

“My pyramid has four things,” stated Shrewsberry. “The bottom says daily improvement. The second one says win the next game one possession at a time. That’s all I wanted those guys to do. I thought to start the game every shot we took was trying to be a 10-point shot. We were so wound up and so tight. When they started scoring, we tried to hit 10-pointers. That’s not how you win. You have to win it one possession at a time.” 

Shrewsberry was glad his team had some adversity as it was a step Notre Dame needed to take after scoring over 90 points during its two exhibition games. It started with defense, but also dominating the paint as Notre Dame outscored Niagara 48-28 down low. 

“We didn’t do it in that secret scrimmage. As good as our secret scrimmage opponent was, we played. There was no adversity in that game. We played free. We got what we wanted. Same exact thing in our exhibition. 

“We had to trust our system. We’re not super detailed at our system yet. We will be as the games go by, but I thought we did show some toughness and a level of toughness for getting some stops, rebounds, holding our ground and not getting beat up in the paint. We wanted one possession at a time.” 

CULTURE
It’s a new program and that means setting a strong culture is almost as important as wins. In addition to defense, Shrewsberry has created an unselfish culture to this point as he wants his players to enjoy the success of their teammates. 

Tonight, it was the Markus Burton show and the team responded in proper fashion following the win. 

“I talked about Markus setting the record tonight and you should have seen his teammates and how they ran over to him and jumped on top of him,” said Shrewsberry. “They weren’t sitting there like, ‘I only got two shots and he got 20.’ They didn’t care. They cared that we won. They cared he helped us. They care about maybe next is my night. 

“When you celebrate each other, that’s when you start to build some resolve.” 

Roper was quick to echo Shrewberry’s comments as he was quick to point out the importance of Burton and Booth stepping up - even if it wasn’t a surprise to those in the program. 

“Those guys are two of the hardest working guys out there,” said Roper. “Everyone is hardworking, but those guys earned it. They put in the work. Their work is showing.” 

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