SOUTH SLIDING − Three quick thoughts and other news and notes and anecdotes from Wednesday’s men’s college basketball game between Southern Indiana and Notre Dame, won by the Irish 82-70 by 4,433 at the Purcell Pavilion…
∎ It’s often hard to tell when he’s not salty, but Notre Dame assistant head coach Anthony Solomon wasn’t in the best of spirits after the first two games.
Too much leakage on the defensive end for his liking. Solomon returned for his third stint as Irish assistant last year and was tasked with pushing the Irish to do better in that regard. They were good enough to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. In the first two games of this year, it was as if Notre Dame had forgotten the principles the guy they call “Slo” preached last season.
That’s why Solomon wasn’t happy after the first two games. Mike Brey said if Solomon isn’t happy, he’s not happy. Brey suspected Solomon would run into some of the guys in practice on Tuesday. He didn’t have to. The Irish knew they had to improve and were in training then it was Wednesday again.
“Of course that was a focus for us in training,” said super senior power forward Nate Laszewski. “Being a little bit louder on the defensive side of the ball and dictating what they do. It definitely raised a level today.”
Notre Dame (3-0) was better on Wednesday. At least for the first half. The Irish came into play at the last Atlantic Coast Conference by scoring defense (78.5 ppg.) and field goal defense percentage (.485). Notre Dame then held Southern Indiana (1-2) to 34.4 percent from the floor, 22.2 percent from 3 and 25 points in a first half that saw the Irish lead 17 at break.
“They did a great job icing the ball screen,” said Southern Indiana coach Stan Gourad. “That bothered us.”
Southern Indiana finished 41.3 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from 3, but picked herself up to go to 70 points.
“I thought we were more committed,” Brey said of the early defensive focus.
∎ It may mean nothing when the full picture of this season is finally painted, but there was something special about Laszewski, who was named this week’s first league player of the week.
Laszewski came back in part because there were aspects of his game that he hadn’t shown in the first four years and believed he could show it this season. He showed them the first two games in which he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds. He started straight from the vault and set a career-high 28 points against Radford. On Sunday, he showed something different with a baseline drive and a left-handed dunk. Hadn’t seen that in his first four years.
On Wednesday, Laszewski continued to build on early league honors with another double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“Paul Atkinson, Blake Wesley and Prentiss Hubb are gone and that’s good for you,” Brey said of what he told Laszewski that offseason. “The stage is set for you to be the star. I needed time to explain that to him. We love all these guys, but they have to decide that you’re the guy.
“I love that he grabbed it.”
Laszewski replied. And delivered. The first week was a confirmation for him that his game is in a good position. He’s now the one who gets the first touch and the first chance to score in games. For example, let’s touch #14 and everything else will fall into place.
“Just try to be aggressive from the start, try to score, try to make a game,” Laszewski said. “Definitely try to stay aggressive early in the game.”
∎ Game situations got one night off.
That was good. No need to break a sweat on this. Not even after Notre Dame shrunk their 21-point lead to just eight in the second half. But the Screamin’ Eagles never got close because the Irish (and guard Trey Wertz) always had answers.
In their first game against Radford, Notre Dame were three points down after two minutes. Sunday against Youngstown State it led with just three with 2:10 left.
“I prepare us mentally for tough games,” said Brey. “I thought we did a great job building it. They pushed us a bit, but I thought we responded.”
On Wednesday, at the two-minute mark, Brey was only thinking about emptying his bench for the seldom-used boys to end this game. Every team needs a game like the one Notre Dame had against Southern Indiana. It would be nice to finish that early stretch with a few more.
The email landed in various college basketball inboxes at 12:46 p.m. Tuesday. That means Brey was slowly simmering at 1 o’clock. Almost three hours later, he still hadn’t cooled down.
How could the John R. Wooden Awards send out its top 50 player watch list and not include Irish super senior Dan Goodwin? At the start of Wednesday’s game against Southern Indiana, the guard had 1,369 points, 541 rebounds and 169 assists in 3,764 minutes in 128 career games. He was named third-team All-ACC last season.
Goodwin was not among the 10 listed ACC players.
“When I see something like this, I just roll my eyes,” Brey said Tuesday of the Wooden Award snub. “It’s just beyond me. It blows my mind. I said my husband was almost a 50-40-90 guy with his overall performance last year (for field goal percentage, 3 point percentage and free throw percentage) and was a player of the year contender until last week . He’s not on the preseason watch list?”
Brey laughed as he spoke, but he was genuinely unhappy. He thinks he knows why Goodwin wasn’t there.
“I think they’re mad at me because I attacked them before when I thought we had other candidates,” he said.
That would be former Irish power forward John Mooney, who racked up double-doubles on points and rebounds in 2019-20 at a rate (a national-best 25) the ACC hadn’t seen since the days of Tim Duncan. Mooney wasn’t on the midseason woods watch list either. That bothered Brey at the time. That bothers Brey now. Mooney won’t and Goodwin won’t win the Wooden (the college basketball equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) but won’t make the nation’s top 50? come one
After venting, Brey vowed to let it go.
“I don’t care anymore,” he said. “I hope our boys don’t care.”
Goodwin finished Wednesday with 14 points, three rebounds and two assists.
“These guys trust me; The coach trusts me and I’ve worked hard all summer and the confidence is there now.”
-Wertz about his fast goal start (17.6 pp.) in the first three games.
Based on the numbers
∎0:00: Notre Dame trailed on Wednesday, which hadn’t happened in their first two games as the Irish got into game situations late in each competition.
∎0: Number of possessions Notre Dame has played with its core types. Brey said afterwards he felt it was a mistake to jump into the zone too early in the first two games.
∎ 1: Ireland walk-on guard Alex Wade scored his first college point with a free throw in the closing seconds.
∎ 1:24: Time recorded by fifth-year senior Robby Carmody, his highest since the 12-minute game on December 4, 2019 in a loss in Maryland.
∎ 3: Back-to-back games in double figures for points for Wertz, a first for him in a Notre Dame uniform. He only had two games with at least 10 points last year.
∎ 3:29: minutes of play for Irish power forward Dom Campbell in his first collegiate game.
∎ 7:07: Time remaining in the first half when Irish scored the free throw bonus (seventh foul).
∎ 8th: All eight available grantees logged minutes in the first 15+ minutes of the first half. The Irish also saw their 17-point lead quickly reduced to 12 as they benched deeper, which is why they don’t bench deeper.
∎ 20: Minute limitation for Southern Indiana big man Jacob Polakovich in his first game due to a broken right foot. Polakovich scored 16 points with 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.
∎ 21: Biggest lead for Notre Dame, which came in the first 14 seconds of the second half
∎ 38: Days until Christmas, which hasn’t stopped a local FM station from already switching to Christmas music. With the snow falling and Burl Ives on the radio, the drive to Wednesday’s game felt somehow comfortable. Do not tell anyone.
∎ 68: Number of free throws Notre Dame attempted in the first three games.
∎ 92.3: Percentage that Notre Dame, the leading team for free-throw takers in the ACC, shot from the foul line (12 of 13) in the first half. It finished 23 out of 28 (82.1 percent).
Notre Dame completes its stretch of three games in six days and four of nine with an off-conference home game on Friday against Lipscomb (2-1), who earn a last-second home win over Belmont on Monday.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.