Yes, the football team had a fairly important victory last night, but earlier in the afternoon, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team finally looked like a team heading in the right direction with a 95-70 rout of the DePaul Blue Demons in South Bend. The Irish shot just shy of 50 percent from the three-point line, looking like some of the lethal shooting teams of recent years under Mike Brey.
Here’s what we learned in another non-conference home victory, as the Irish continued to find their identity in this transitional season:
Tri-rannosaurus Rex comes alive from downtown
The youth of this Irish team is apparent, with their four highly-touted freshmen seeing playing time in the early going of this season. Given their inexperienced core, the few upperclassmen need to step up. Rex Pflueger hadn’t answered the call, at least not offensively. Until Saturday afternoon.
Heading into the contest shooting just 26 percent from the field, Pflueger shot a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown en route to a career-high 20 points to pace the Irish offense. He was his usual pesky self on the other end of the floor, but when he comes an efficient two-way player, he takes Notre Dame to another level as a whole.
It was the timing of Pflueger’s scoring spurt that proved the most valuable, as 17 of his 20 points came in the second half, after the team led by just three at the break. Even a back issue that held Pflueger out of Thursday’s practice couldn’t slow him down on Saturday. For Mike Brey, he can only hope this is the beginning of a new trend.
Do we sense a balance in the force?
If I told you that John Mooney finished the day with just three points while not attempting a three-pointer, yet the Irish would knock down 13 triples en route to the team’s highest scoring game of the season, would you call me crazy? Well believe it baby, because that’s precisely what happened Saturday.
Sure, Mooney still grabbed his usual 11 rebounds to do his part, but in terms of scoring, the Irish didn’t need him. Pflueger led the way, but freshmen Prentiss Hubb and Nate Lascewski both set season highs with 15 points apiece, including a 4-for-6 day for Lascewski from beyond the arc, something we saw from him in spurts at the beginning of the season.
The Irish can’t rely on Pflueger, Mooney and T.J. Gibbs for all of their scoring. That might have worked with Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, but this is a different roster that needs to share the wealth if they’re going to find success in the ACC. Saturday was a step in the right direction, as at least one of these recruits that make up Brey’s best class to date needs to become a prolific part of the offense.
Their offensive awakening could have come at a perfect time
With the Power Five portion of the schedule looming, Brey needed to see something like this from the Irish offense, who have struggled mightily to score in some of the early games this season.
Now, the lineup tinkering and fine-tuning will be put to the test in the coming weeks before ACC play, as teams like Illinois, Purdue and UCLA await. The latter squads finished this week in the top 25, so we’re about to find out where this Irish team is right now. I’m sure Brey would have liked more time to figure out the optimal rotations for his group, but sometimes the best way to learn is to be thrown right into the fire.
It will likely be an arduous trek through these next two weeks, but if Saturday was any indication, the Irish could be discovering themselves right on time.