Irish Opener: Initial Impressions

Player-by-player observations from Notre Dame's 82-39 season opening victory over Binghamton, the 400th win of Irish head coach Mike Brey's coaching career (300-159 at ND).

Demetrius Jackson (10 points, 6 assists) -- End-to-end quickness and athleticism was apparent from the outset…Not only the fastest player on the floor but leaping ability, not to mention "mid-air balance" appeared unique…Two hanging layups driving across the paint -- beginning his leap from one side of the lane to finish opposite showed the rare athleticism most expected last season…Good to see his two-dribble jumper connect early, but his catch-and-shoot didn't fall the rest of the way…

Ran the show in a manner commensurate with an experienced point guard…Nice feed to freshman Bonzie Colson to get him first collegiate bucket near end of half…Had a few good looks not go down from beyond the arc…Heady save leaping out of bounds off a Bearcats foe, but technically not a great idea on their side of the court…Not necessarily flat on his jumper, but something is off -- perhaps an inconsistent release…Tremendous in open court again late, flying for a high bucket finish across the lane and used the rim to protect against a taller defender.

Quote to Note: "That's the great thing about our team, everybody can play," Jackson said of a first-half nine-man rotation. "Those first subs came in and did a good job keeping the energy high."

Pat Connaughton (17 points, 10 rebounds, 6-9 shooting) -- Solid as usual, letting it all come to him early and helping facilitate the offense…Looked for dribble drive at times but that'll always be a limited part of his game…Gave the Irish a new possession with a battling offensive board off a teammate's missed free throw…Punctuated his first half effort with a flying catch- and- finish that was reminiscent of Connaughton the early-season freshman before he unveiled a three-point stroke…Drilled a wing 3 early in second half from Jackson…Helped with a weak side block that forced a tie-up…

Nailed another three two possessions later for his 1,000th career point … And yet another, top of the key, in rhythm again, all three off the catch to extend to a 64-31 lead…Broke up an alley-oop with leaping block…"You can't be laid back but you don't need to force it," said Connaughton of letting the game come to him. "It's something I pride myself on: contribute any way I can and when it's time, be more aggressive."

Quote to Note: "This is a man playing college basketball," said Brey. I'm so thrilled that he's back with us and that he is THE voice. He's done such a good job with this group, leading. Old reliable is always there when you need him."

Zach Auguste (19 points, 7 boards, 7-11 shooting) -- Strong start, very aggressive from the outset…Slowed a bit after first time off the floor, but reengaged late run the half…Free throw form and release was strong, solid, and an encouraging sign…Had an emphatic rejection out of bounds in transition in front of Hall of Fame center David Robinson on the Irish baseline…First three buckets of second half (two layups and a dunk) were all spoon fed from Jackson and Jerian Grant…Quick authoritative post spin move to his left but it rimmed out, his best shot of the day but one of only four misses. Everything was within three feet of the bucket, as it should have been for a player with a massive height/talent advantage.

Jerian Grant (14 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 5 steals) -- Active in the passing lanes from the outset and throughout the contest…Consistently found creases in half court offense and transition drives…Drilled his signature "size-you-up" 3 from the left wing, early, one of his pet shots…Nice drive and feed to Auguste, looking to the top of the key in mid-air before dropping it off under the bucket, though Auguste was surprised by the nifty pass….Does anyone take harder falls on drives than Jerian Grant? Then again, he wears a Bonds-ian amount of pads…Another nice drop-off pass to Auguste for a layup…And yet another…

Good dish to Auguste for layup to open second half…Great cross lane pass to Auguste for dunk on the secondary break…Steal, score and a nice shifting finish to his left hand…Total confidence in transition shows as Grant finishes with a leaping two-handed jam in traffic for a 61-31 lead…

Quote to Note:" We can pressure the ball," said Brey of his backcourt. "Jerian and Demetrius give us a whole different look when they get out there on the ball."

Steve Vasturia (5 points, 2-2 shooting, 2 assists, 2 steals) -- Quiet, solid outing…Steal, score early with great passing lane awaremenss…Later in the half, creates a steal for Colson, poking it free from the post…Forces shot-clock violation with a diving steal and brilliant kick-ahead attempt toward the Irish basket…Swings it to Connaughton for a wing 3…It's clear Vasturia's the glue guy in this offensive attack…Hit both of his shots including one from downtown.

V.J. Beachem (6 points in 18 minutes) Entered at the 13:37 mark of the first half along with Martinas Geben as the first two off the bench…Seemed passive early aside from a drive to his left that ended with a shot-blocked as he switched to his right hand (coaches, feel free to cringe in unison)…Nice block at the bucket but called for goal-tending…Knocked down a top of the key 3 off the pass from Jackson with five minutes to play to give ND a 39-point lead…Drills another for six straight points as the shot-clock nears a close.

Martinas Geben (No FG attempts, 13 min., 1 board, steal, block) -- Joined Beachem as one of first two off the bench but saw limited action with minimal impact early as Auguste presented an obvious mismatch the Irish were happy to exploit…Has good court awareness but was the only player with an apparent case of the jitters.

Austin Burgett: -- First appearance came after the 12:00 timeout….still flat on his corner J, a matter that has to be rectified if he's going to stand 20 feet from the hoop in the half-court…Can still elevate and control his body in the air…Bricked a free throw after a pretty finish on the break, assist to Jackson…Weak side block but was called for a foul late…

Bonzie Colson: -- Entered with 1:58 to play in the first half; then returned at the 7:18 mark of the second, which makes the following intriguing… Began his career with a layup, then fouled on the next possession, hitting his first but looking stiff on the second…There's no other way to put this: he's an oddly shaped dude… Long arms are going to come in handy (and did Friday)…Good awareness in the passing lane, recording a steal and converting on a stumbling bucket on the break…To the bucket hard but called for a charge later in the half…He's a load, man…Recovered a fumbled Geben board attempt to convert for bucket and foul, misses FT…Awkward but effective is my guess for Colson as a true freshan…Colson to the offensive boards again, fouled but no call…Yet another off. board…The dude finds the ball, or it finds him.

Quote to Note: "I'm going to get on him tomorrow," said Brey. "I would have put him in earlier, he hasn't practiced as well as he did the first two weeks. We need to challenge him because we need him. You see the instincts he has. He does some things no one else on our team can do: deflections, around the bucket, making plays. We're going to need him as that ninth guy. I want to get him in there earlier on Sunday -- practice better tomorrow."

Matt Farrell, Austin Torres Make their collegiate debuts at 4:40 mark, 75-36 Irish lead. Torres gets his first collegiate bucket on a vicious transition dunk courtesy a feed from Colson, who again found a steal in the passing lanes…Man, Torres has some bounce near the rim, elevating over Eric Katenda for a defensive baord… Farrell squeezed off a missed three, got a board as he ran the show with the game nowhere near in question…He's not six-feet as listed, I might add…Eric Katenda entered near the two-minute mark and immediately grabbed a rebound off missed FT. Ends up missing a J…then another and another. He wanted to get his first career bucket…Has a little bit of a presence with his size -- immediately set a pair of screens.

Ten Takeaways

1.) All of the above with a grain of salt -- it's Binghamton.

2.) Love the ball movement, spacing, and the ability to drive and create from guards

3.) Auguste would have had five layups blocked by better defenders. Dunk it, young man.

4.) Connaughton has improved as a jump shooter; Burgett's J is still flat…

5.) Vasturia will first be noticed when he's missing (three fouls) from a close game. He makes winning plays…

6.) Need to see more from Geben: get him 20 minutes as soon as possible, though that might not be Sunday…

7.) Better shooting team than last year without a doubt, and that's half the battle to finishing 7-2/8-1 in league home games.

8.) Rebounding will be an issue, but only intermittently. They'll keep the average squads off the boards -- helps to avoid upsets.

9.) Colson (and credit Bryan Driskell of Irish Sports Daily for this one), is a dead-ringer for former Philadelphia 76ers forward Clarence Weatherspoon.

10.) If Torres can bring that bounce for 3 minutes each half, Brey should consider a 10-man look.


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