Co-Captain Scott Martin was held out again Monday night as he is still recovering from his ankle injury but the team was further limited by the absence of big man Tom Knight whose recent pneumonia contraction could hold him out for a few more games. The Irish did not need either forward to cruise by the Stonehill College Skyhawks in their final exhibition game of the season with the final score of 92-70.With Knight sitting out, Head Coach Mike Brey changed up the starting rotation so he could squeeze more minutes out of Jack Cooley*. ND matched up the starting lineup against Stonehill's all-faceup lineup by starting 5 perimeter players. The man to man match up was unsuccessful to start the game as the Irish looked out of sync shooting just 1/4 and turning the ball over in 3 of the first 6 possessions.
*EDIT: Jack Cooley was out of the starting lineup due to some "academic deficiencies" per Coach Brey
Things flipped around for the better as soon as Cooley was inserted into the game for Alex Dragicevich to form a more traditional lineup. Cooley scored 10 of the next 16 Irish points as the team hit 10 of their next 11 shots and stymied the opposition with an effective 2-3 zone. That run, which pushed ND to a 49-29 lead by the half, ended up being the defining factor as Stonehill failed to get within17 and fell by as much as 30 the rest of the way.
So instead of doing a game recap like last time, I'll just post a few (probably more than a few) bullet points on things I liked and disliked in this game as the team heads into the regular season.
- Tim Abromaitis dropped 20 in his last game for two weeks as he will be serving his 4 game suspension starting Saturday. He was 4-6 from beyond the arc but also played physical early, drawing fouls with effective pump fakes and dribble penetrations.
- Eric Atkins continues to evolve into the kind of Notre Dame point guard we can all rely on. The word that continues to come to mind with him is "smooth" (Note: There is a strong possibility that this is because he is wearing a sleeve on his left arm and those things have a tendency to make you look smoother - see: Allen Iverson). His 12 point 8 assist performance is something I believe we can count on all year even against elite competition.
- Jack Cooley's offense has really improved. I know it's against players 3 inches and 30 pounds smaller than him but I'm impressed by his touch and awareness on the offensive end. The team is also doing a good job of finding the big men on offense as Mike Broghammer benefited from good entry passes as well.
- Speaking of Broghammer, good to see him healthy and getting yet another putback dunk in this game. Those knees better hold up all season. (KNOCK ON WOOD)
- Joey Brooks, Alex Dragicevich and Jerian Grant continue to prove why all three will play significant roles for this squad this season. Brooks again moved his feet well defense, showed good court awareness on offense and even hit a corner 3. Dragicevich hit all of his field goal attempts including 3 from long range while managing the game well in the backup PG role. Grant improved on defense using his long wingspan to be disruptive while improving his shooting and playmaking. He dropped 9 dimes to go with his 11 points.
- The Atkins/Grant backcourt is very promising as their athleticism enables ball pressure to take place right at the top of the zone without losing a beat in perimeter recovery. The speed then allows easy transition points as both guards have the ability to start and finish a break on their own.
- Having said that, 3 point defense continues to be a issue. The team was up by 30 with 11:39 left in the game but allowed 11 shots from beyond the line which kept the score somewhat respectable from Stonehill's perspective.
- Watching Pat Connaughton is like watching Andrew Hendrix (although he's more of a Harrison Smith doppleganger). He's extremely athletic and very promising and you can only hope that the head coach will utilize him more. I have a feeling Brey will do just that especially with Abro sitting out the first four games.
- Walk-on Patrick Crowley got int the game and hit a 3 from the right side corner. Good for him.
- I know it's just the preseason but the Purcell Pavilion crowd sucks. The only time they show any form of enthusiasm is when the jumbotron camera is pointed at them. Which I suppose the anti-jumbotron camp could use in their argument. However, I staunchly remain in the pro-jumbotron and pro-field turf side.
The Irish tip off their regular season on Saturday afternoon against Mississippi Valley State. I will be in Maryland for the football game and thus will not be able to provide coverage for the season opener, however I will be the only OFD writer at the game so I'll be doing a stadium experience post afterwards.
I implore all you ND fans to really care for this team this year. I know a handful of the guys and they're all quality dudes. Abro is obviously the premier example of a ND athlete with an BBA and MBA in 4 years (he's just taking random grad school courses at this point) and he's also one of the best players in the country this year. The backcourt is young and more athletic than it has ever been in Brey's tenure, and with no NBA season in the horizon, it may be the only basketball you get this winter and spring.
With that, this is 4pointshooter signing off - until next time Irish fans!