It starts as a notion that slowly begins to build in the back of his head.
There’s one, now another. It’s starting to feel right. Get me the ball. I’ve got a rhythm. There’s three, there’s four. I can feel it. I can’t miss.
In the mind of a shooter on the basketball court, an impulse passes from one neuron to another that only a shooter can comprehend. The next one’s going in, and the next one, and the next one…I can’t miss.
Matt Ryan, Notre Dame’s 6-foot-8, 217-pound freshman from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., has a shooter’s mentality to go along with the picturesque stroke. Sunday at Purcell Pavilion, the outside firepower that attracted Notre Dame to Ryan during his high school days at Iona Prep surfaced as Ryan converted 4-of-6 three-pointers en route to a career-high 14 points in Notre Dame’s 81-61 victory over Loyola (Chicago).
Ryan also grabbed a career-high five rebounds.
“You start to feel like everything is going in,” said Ryan, who made three of his four three-pointers over the final 11 minutes of the game as the Irish turned a 10-point lead with 12:32 remaining into a 25-point advantage less than six minutes later.
“Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. Once you get into that zone, you think everything is going in and the basket gets a little bigger.”
Ryan also logged his second most minutes of the season (19) against Loyola, due in part to the improvement he has shown on the other end of the floor.
“He’s a weapon we have to play,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “He may end up playing more and more because the shot is an amazing weapon.
“But he’s not a liability defensively. He’s got good size. He throws his body around. He’s a physical kid. We’ve got to keep grooming him and he has to be on the floor for us because he’s a key.”
When Ryan is on the floor, chances are one of either Zach Auguste or Bonzie Colson is not, which means the Irish are playing four-around-one and probably flowing pretty well offensively.
Brey is looking for that offensive rhythm for which his programs are known. Ryan, coupled with Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, is a pretty lethal shooting lineup.
Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, the Irish had their offense rolling, converting 58 percent from the field, including a 10-of-20 effort from beyond the arc. Beachem made 2-of-6 while Vasturia (2-of-4), Jackson (1-of-3) and Matt Farrell (1-of-1) chipped in.
But it was Ryan who sparked the second-half surge. His three-pointer at the 11:23 mark made it a 15-point game. Less than a minute later, Ryan connected again. His final three-pointer came with less than four minutes remaining, which stretched Notre Dame’s lead to 23 points.
Ryan has made 14-of-34 three-pointers in nine games (.412) with 8-of-16 coming in the last five games.
“I came in and Demetrius found me right away,” said Ryan, who eclipsed his previous high of 11 points in 26 minutes against Iowa.
“They had a ball screen with Zach, Zach rolled, I filled up and Demetrius hit me in a great spot. The second half, I was just moving without the ball, trying to find open spots. I think the guys recognized I was feeling it a little bit and tried to get me a couple more shots.”
Ryan learned a lesson from the previous game against Stony Brook.
“I know last game I had a couple looks and I didn’t even shoot,” Ryan reflected. “I was a little mad at myself because I can help the team by shooting.”
Brey is starting to see a pattern develop.
“Matt Ryan really energized us,” said Brey of the Loyola performance. “He did that at Iowa, off the bench, double figures. He just really believes. Tough guy, tough kid.”
Ryan knows in order to assure increased playing time down the road, it will be earned on the defensive end. The offense/shot will take care of itself.
“It was a good game for me defensively,” Ryan said. “To be able to switch with Demetrius who is usually guarding a very fast point guard was great. I wouldn’t have been able to do that a few months ago.
“I’ve definitely improved defensively. That’s going to be the side of the court where I’m going to have to continue making strides.”
It’s on the offensive end of the court where Ryan will be making headlines.