NOTRE DAME, Indiana — After watching Southern Indiana hit 12 threes in the second half in Missouri and 15 for the game in the first year of the Division I program, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was determined to do this to his Irishmen not allow.
Notre Dame (3-0) stormed out of the blocks, taking a 17-point lead midway through the first half, extending it to 21 early in the second half, and then holding on to a 45-point sliver for the final 20 minutes the Ohio Valley Conference Screaming Eagles to earn an 82-70 win Wednesday night at the Purcell Pavilion.
“I think we put it together better on both ends of the floor than we did in the previous two games,” Brey said after five players hit double digits in the second game in a row while limiting the Evansville, Indiana visitors if it that mattered most.
“Particularly defensively, we were worried they could make a bunch of three-pointers like they did in Missouri and I thought we had some really efficient offensive possessions in the second half. Quiet, that’s kind of what this group was.”
Trey Wertz, who scored a team-best 18 points in Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Radford, beat the Irish scorers again by 20 points as an inside-out threat. Reigning ACC Player of the Week Nate Laszewski hit his third double-double in as many games with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Dane Goodwin (14 points), Cormac Ryan (13) and newcomer JJ Starling (10) rounded out the even scoring for the Irish while limiting the Screaming Eagles to 11 of 32 shots in the first half.
“I think I’ve always been able to get in the paint, but I think it’s more than always passing, when I get down, to score first and when something opens up, to pass,” Wertz said. who was 3-of-3 on two-point shots and 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. Wertz also hit 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Brey has found his man leading the offense, at least until injured guard Marcus Hammond returns against Bowling Green next Tuesday.
“At Trey, over the years, whether it’s Martin Ingelsby, Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn, Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, or Jerian Grant, I’ve needed a guy like this to lead the team that I can talk to,” Brey said.
Wertz has filled the role of playmaker with Hammond (knee), who is expected to return from injury on Tuesday against Bowling Green. Right now it’s Wertz, and right now Laszewski has become a double-double producer.
“When Marcus Hammond was out, I said, ‘Trey, we need you,’ and he just nailed it,” Brey said. “He’s calm and he sees the ground and I just love his demeanor. His demeanor helps all of us to remain offensively calm.”
Laszewski now has 60 points and 32 rebounds in three games.
“I told him, ‘Paul Atkinson, Blake Wesley and Prentiss Hubb are gone, and that’s good for you,'” Brey said. “You played great with them, but the stage was cleared for you to be the star.
“I needed time to explain that to him. It was like, ‘We love all these guys, but they have to go for you to be the guy.’ I think it’s great that he made it and that he really led for us.”
USI big men Jacob Polakovich and Trevor Lakes combined for 37 points and 15 rebounds, with the former – who came from a broken foot – doing most of his damage in the first half in his first game from injury, while Lakes was on the course did their best after the Irish opened up a 21-point lead early in the second half.
Notre Dame’s first-half defensive efforts showed progress after special emphasis was placed on it on the training ground on Tuesday. With so much focus on stopping three-pointers, Brey was ready to live with the two-pointers scored by Polakovich and Lakes.
“If we’re helping and they’re doing 11 threes all of a sudden, we’ve got a different night now,” Brey said. “We’re so efficient offensively, even when a layup is (seems) like a dagger because they just dunked it. It still counts as two.”
The Screaming Eagles (1-2) — with eight transfers including players from Michigan State, Houston and Nebraska — missed 18 of their first 24 shots, including six of their first seven threes, after beating the Tigers with 15-to-30 shooting from Beyond the Arc in Columbia.
After the defense allowed 51 percent shooting and 48 of 81 points in the paint three days earlier against Youngstown State, defense took center stage. The Irish limited southern Indiana to 11 of 32 Shoot as the Irish build a 42-25 halftime lead.
The Irish extended their lead to 21 points after Laszewski played four points after a flagrant foul 18 seconds into the second half. But the Screaming Eagles cut the deficit to eight points in less than 13 minutes.
Back-to-back threes from Cormac Ryan and Trey Wertz brought the Irish lead back to 16 points. The Irish secured victory on the stretch with a post-up from Ven-Allen Lubin, a turnaround jumper from Goodwin and a basket from Starling for a 73-56 lead with 4:46 to go.
With a limited bench and three games in six days, Brey was aware there was a stir across the country, particularly in the ACC. Florida State is 0-3 with losses to Stetson, Central Florida and Troy. Boston College lost to Maine at home on Monday.
“I said to the guys, ‘We’ve got to keep our noses clean,'” Brey said. “I said, ‘Did Boston College and Florida State go about their business last night? No, well, we have business to attend to. Let’s get our business done.’”
The Irish return to the hardwood with a home game against Lipscomb on Friday, the night before the Boston College football game. Tip off is at 7:00 ET.