SOUTH BEND – The most anticipated season of Notre Dame basketball in years kicked off at the Joyce Center on Halloween evening as the Irish hosted Briar Cliff University of Sioux City (IA) and the NAIA in an exhibition contest.
Ayers struggled at times with his jumper, but never lost confidence and although he was just two of eight from behind the arc, he was six of seven from inside three-pointland. It appears that the question is not if the Irish will develop a third scorer behind Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney, but whether it will be Ayers or Jackson.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is not going to force anyone into that role, but was happy with Ayers' opening performance.
"If he wants to get 20, that'd be all right. He has permission," Brey joked. "I'm sure there's nights I think he can do this and there's probably nights maybe he'll get 10 and five assists. I think our scoring can be a little bit all over the board given what the defense gives us."
Harangody finished with 16 points on six of 12 shooting while McAlarney did not force his shots and finished four of 12 from the floor for 11 points.
Ayers said that he does not put any pressure on himself to be that third scorer.
"It just comes with guys having confidence in me. I was able to hit some shots today even though I didn't shoot it well from the three," Ayers said. "My teammates were able to find me the ball, but not really pressure."
Jackson did not want to talk about his point total afterward.
"My scoring didn't mean as much to the team as Jonathan Peoples did today," Jackson said. "He was the key today to tell you the truth. He picked me up and the points that I got, everything was basically off of what Jonathan Peoples was telling me."
Peoples came off the bench to help the Irish settle down in the first half.
"No one impressed me more and made a bigger jump in Ireland than Jon," Brey said. "He's continued to do that since we've come back. He's just an old, veteran guard who knows how to play and knows how to work with this group."
The Irish did not start fast and allowed the Chargers to take a 17-14 lead eight minutes into the game on the strength of three early three-pointers. It wasn't that Notre Dame was sloppy, the Irish were playing hard in the opening minutes, they were just a little off.
Briar Cliff's strategy was obvious as the Chargers fired 19 three-point attempts in the first half and 28 in the game.
Briar Cliff did knock down eight trifectas in the first half, but the Irish were able to gain control of the game when they started to pressure the Chargers fullcourt midway through the half.
"They shot the ball deep and we couldn't really do too much about it, but we adjusted," Jackson said. "They've got to be shooters because there's nothing out there where they're from."
Brey did not get to run as much zone as he would have liked with Briar Cliff bombing away, but thought that it was good for his players.
"We really played more man than maybe we would in a Big East game, but it was a great workout," he said. "We have some great film to watch tomorrow morning on some good defensive stuff and some not so good defensive stuff."
Brey would have liked to play Harangody and Luke Zeller together more in the first half, but felt that he needed to give his team a chance to open up the game.
"I want Luke and Luke to play together," Brey said. "Chasing 6-2 guys is maybe not the most conducive thing or realistic thing for them. I figured at the end of the half, let's get a lineup in and that lineup did a good job of really pressuring those guys and gave us some energy to end the half."
Notre Dame went on a 20-5 run over six minutes to grab a 34-22 advantage.
The Chargers came back with a 12-4 spurt that included four three-pointers to cut the lead to four, 38-34, with just 2:29 to play in the first half. But the Irish closed the half with an 8-0 run to take a 46-34 lead into intermission.
Harangody led Notre Dame in the first half with 14 points, followed by Ayers, who had nine and Zeller's seven.
Drew Hanson nailed a trio of three-pointers in the first half to lead the Chargers with nine, followed by Morris Smeader, who had eight. Derek Mechaelsen was Briar Cliff's high-point man on the night with 14 points.
The Chargers did not come out discouraged in the second half and scored five quick to make the score 48-39, but the Irish size and athleticism quickly took over. By the eight-minute mark, Notre Dame had opened up an 81-50 lead.
Brey played his regulars major minutes as his starters played 146 of the 200 minutes.
Notre Dame senior forward Zach Hillesland did not dressed as he continues to struggle with plantar fasciitis. Brey hopes to have him back for next Sunday's exhibition game against Stonehill, but is confident that Hillesland will be ready for the regular season opener against USC Upstate on Nov. 16.
Briar Cliff returns nine players with experience from last year's team that went 22-12, 11-7 in the Greater Plains Athletic Conference.