In front of a few thousand fans, Notre Dame used an old Mike Brey formula, hitting 72 percent from three-point land in the first half to propel the Irish to a 85-57 victory over the Knights. Notre Dame goes into the regular season with two exhibition wins under their belt as they prepare for the regular season home opener this Friday vs. IPFW. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Joyce Center. On Monday, Brey and his team went through their final dress rehearsal before the real deal stats. Not surprisingly, the three-point shot was a big factor in their success.
Last season, the Irish shot 40 percent from behind the arc. In the first half, they were unconscious from long distance range. Of the 13 made shots en route to a 50-33 halftime lead, eight of them came via the three-point shot. Notre Dame only missed three in the first half. Bellarmine was close early at 12-10. But the Irish went on a 14-0 run to turn the two-point lead into a 26-10 advantage. Kyle McAlarney hit two long distance bombs in the run while Russell Carter added one. For the contest, six different players hit shots from behind the arc. On the contrast, 12 of the 14 made shots in the second half were from inside the three-point land. The balance at the end was there.
"The one stat that I liked is 55 attempts and 18 three's," Brey said. "That's a pretty good ratio. We're not just living out there. If we get clean looks, we got guys who can really clean up out there. In the first half, they really doubled the post a lot so it really presented itself for us to get a lot of good looks. I like that ratio. We threw it inside. Some of it is transition and getting some easy baskets in the lane that way. But also you get to the foul line and into the bonus. I'm disappointed in 70 percent (from the free throw line). I think we can shoot better than that."
Inside for Notre Dame, forward Rob Kurz did not play because of a broken bone suffered in practice on Sunday evening. The junior underwent surgery on Monday and is expected to play on Friday against IPFW. This did not stop Luke Zeller and company from making their presence known in the paint. The sophomore forward scored a team-high 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Zeller, who averaged 13 minutes a game last year, figures to be a key guy in the rotation this season.
"We really had him down there in practice the second half of the season," Brey said. "He didn't play much in the Big East but we strapped him up inside in practice. He was starting to get into a rhythm there and Sean Kearney (assistant head coach) has really done a good job with him. In the pickup games, he knew to start inside and work himself out and not the other way around. I think he's found a nice rhythm. You love the shot selection and the balance."
"He's difficult to guard because he steps out and shoots the three-pointer so well," Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport said about Zeller. "He had 15 points and nine rebounds. It was a solid game. It was good because we can't simulate going against a Luke Zeller in practice. You couldn't bring us in a nicer practice facility or put together the perfect practice plan and simulate that kind of competition."
Last season, the Irish were a respectable fifth in the Big East in rebounding margin. Gone in the inside are Torin Francis and Rick Cornett which could make this an area to watch this year. Zeller had some help. Sophomore Zach Hillesland added seven points while freshman big body Luke Harangody contributed almost a double-double effort with nine points and nine rebounds. For the contest, Notre Dame outrebounded Bellarmine 34-30.
"I'm not shocked by it," Brey said about the inside game. "I think Harangody is going to give us what he's going to give us. What you see is what you get. Zeller is getting more confident. And that's how Hillesland has practiced. He's a unique guy. He's one of those guys that fills all the stats categories. A little bit unorthodox. He can handle the ball. Hopefully the matchup we can take advantage of is the four-man guarding him."
The second half was really never in doubt. The Knights never got cut the Irish lead below double digits as Brey got to empty his bench late in the game. The comfortable lead allowed four freshmen to see action. Total, 10 players saw the court on Monday. Carter scored 14 points while McAlarney was the third Notre Dame player in double figures with 11. The Irish were an aggressive bunch against Bellarmine, getting to the free throw line 30 times (making 21 from the charity stripe) and creating 22 Knight turnovers. Some of the Bellarmine's miscues came as a result of the full court pressure applied throughout the contest by the Irish.