The Irish basketball team improved to 2-0 after blowing out Navy 92-53 Sunday afternoon. Zach Auguste led the Irish with 20 points, and Jerian Grant added 17 to go with 10 assists for his first double-double of the season. Notre Dame scored a whopping 56 points in the second half to turn a relatively close game at halftime into an easy win. While the team was exceptional on the offensive end of the floor after the break, ND's guards constantly pressured the Midshipmen into turnovers throughout the game. The Irish got 11 steals, many of which turned into easy buckets at the other end floor.
While it's obviously too early to make any real conclusions due to the quality of the competition, it's good to see this team blow out an over-matched opponent for the second straight game. Furthermore, Navy lost by just 5 to Michigan State, so they might be a bit better than previously expected. Regardless, it's hard to find many negatives in ND's first two games.
The Irish started with the same lineup that began the game against Binghampton, and sophomore PG Demetrius Jackson wasted no time in making an impact. On Navy's first possession, he jumped in the passing lane to steal the ball before finishing with a dunk for ND's first points. While he struggled a bit offensively and was in foul trouble, Jackson had three steals on defense, two of which he finished himself at the rim. Beacham and Vasturia added two steals of their own, while Burgett, Grant, Colson, and Auguste all had one apiece. In addition to the steals, ND's guards deflected numerous passes as well. The Irish defense turned Navy over 20 times (MSU only forced 10 in their game against Navy) two days after forcing 19 against Binghampton.
In his postgame press conference, coach Mike Brey mentioned the importance of getting "kills" which they define as recording three consecutive stops on defense. While Brey was happy with the 7 kills the team recorded against Binghampton, he said he was thrilled to see the team defense improve to 10 this game. While the offense struggled a bit in the middle part of the first half, the Irish D picked up the slack and helped to keep Navy at arm's length. Brey specifically praised the team's ability to keep defending while things on offense weren't clicking. He said the team last year struggled with this, and hoped ND could keep it up throughout the season.
Although Zach Auguste finished with 20 points, he did struggle a bit with his back to the basket. In response to these struggles, Brey went small to open up the floor at the end of the first half, inserting Austin Burgett to play as the only big man. Instead of posting up his defender, Burgett frequently set ball screens for the Irish guards. The move also gave more space for Irish shooters and cutters moving without the ball. In the second half with Auguste back in the game, the Irish used the same offense to extend their lead. Auguste was fantastic on the pick-and-roll finishing 5 of his 7 FGs on assists from PC, Grant, and Jackson. While you'd like to see him be more effective finishing after posting up his man, it's hard to complain about a 20 point performance from the junior. Freshman Martin Geben had 6 points on 3-3 shooting, and solidified his spot as the first big man off the bench. He provided good minutes to spell Auguste with the game still close in the first half. The Irish will hope he continues to play well. If he can provide quality minutes against better competition later in the season, it will go a long way toward helping the Irish compete in the ACC. Also of note was the defense from all three big men. Auguste, Burgett, and Geben each had at least one block or steal, and did so without getting in foul trouble.
Check out this #SCTop10 worthy THUNDERDUNK from Z.A. (@ZachEliAuguste) ... pretty dirty if you ask us ... http://t.co/gJfdp2ZOmK— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 16, 2014
Demetrius Jackson struggled a bit in his second game as ND's primary ball handler. The sophomore turned the ball over three times, and picked up his third foul early in the second half. With Jackson going to the bench, Vasturia and Grant took over the ball handling responsibilities. Grant picked the right times to get to the rim, pull up for jumpers, and find his teammates all game long in addition to going 7-8 from the line. Grant made it look easy and gave the appearance that he had at least on more gear available that wasn't needed against Navy. Vasturia had a relatively quiet game on offense, but played avoided mistakes with the ball and played well on D. Captain Pat Connaughton had what feels like the 100th "solid" game of his Irish career. He hit open 3s (4-6 behind the arc), finished at the rim, and added three assists to his 13 points on offense. With Grant back on the court, expect to see the Irish captain to get better looks than he got last season with another scorer to keep opposing defenders honest.
Check out Jerian's (@ThatGrant22) #SCTop10 worthy no-look pass to pick up his 10th assist of the game: http://t.co/JR0mCRbXYM— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 16, 2014
Off the Bench
In addition to the strong performances from Geben and Burgett, V.J. Beachem provided a spark for the Irish off the bench. He hit a big 3 late in the first half while Navy was chipping away at the ND lead. Beachem filled the stat sheet with 10 points, a 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. The rest of the bench players didn't enter the game until the last few minutes of the game. After the bench was emptied, Eric Katenda scored his first points in his Irish career. This was great to see from a player that's had some pretty horrible luck since signing for ND.
Katenda tallied his 1st career collegiate points on a crafty spin move late in the 2nd half. Take a look: http://t.co/lzpY0ku1B5— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 16, 2014
- Like Friday night, all 13 players entered the game for ND. Despite the lopsided score, Bonzie Colson played fewer minutes Sunday afternoon than Friday night. While he entered the game a couple minutes before the rest of the deeper bench players, it's still unclear whether he'll be in the rotation, or only play in specific situations. Despite the decline in minutes, Colson, along with Folston and Golson, will confuse ND message board posters everywhere.
- After struggling from the line against Binghampton, the Irish went 19-23 (82.6%) Sunday afternoon.
- Even though they scored 92 points, the Irish were merely "good" shooting the basketball. With help from all of the dunks and layups by Auguste and Geben, the Irish shot 32-57 (56.1%) from the field. For the second game in a row, the Irish were a little below average behind the arc going 9-25 (36%). 19 of ND's 32 FGs were assisted.
- In addition to forcing a significant number of turnovers, the Irish held Navy to just 32% shooting. The Naval Academy did best the Irish from the line, however. The Midshipmen were a perfect 15-15.
- Notre Dame faces another low major opponent, Coppin State, at home on Wednesday before facing UMass and Providence this weekend at Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Connecticut.
- While all of the caveats about the level of competition and sample size apply, this ND team could be really fun to watch. They played aggressively on D, shared the ball on offense, and have multiple guys that can carry the load scoring. If they continue to score and defend like they have the last two games, I think they'll really surprise some teams in conference play.