A forward new to his feature role; another sure-to-grow; and two (relatively) new faces took the court Sunday Night as the 2009-10 Irish opened the Purcell Pavilion with a 70-54 victory over Lewis University.
Four of the nine players to take the floor for the Irish Sunday evening were either in high school or in street clothes on the Irish bench last season. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, especially in South Bend under 10-year head man Mike Brey, who's squad was again led by the dominant Luke Harangody. The senior from Schererville finished with 33 points (on 15-25 from the field) and 9 boards in 36 minutes of opening game action.
Classmates Tory Jackson (7 points and 7 assists in 37 minutes) and Jonathan Peoples (8 points and 5 rebounds in 35 minutes) joined Harangody as familiar faces for the 8,000-plus crowd that included current Indiana Pacer and former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, on hand to watch his brother Ben's debut with the Irish.
Notre Dame's new shooting guard struggled from beyond the arc (0-4) but displayed a varied (not to mention welcomed and necessary) skill set, finishing with seven defensive rebounds, three assists, a steal and 12 points (4-8 from the field; 4-4 from the charity stripe). Hansbrough showed good spring off the floor attacking the defensive glass and played consistent, aggressive defense on the ball despite an uneven offensive debut.
The Irish jumped out to leads of 8-2; 23-14; and 30-16 late in the first half. But Lewis used a 9-2 run over the final 3:43 of the first half to trim the Irish lead to seven, 32-25 at the break.
Lewis trailed by just four, 50-46 at the 9:30 mark, but on cue, Harangody took over, drawing free throws on a low block foul; drilling an 18-foot jumper on a kick-out from Jackson, and eventually going back to his old freshman year standby: the power push shot turning over his left shoulder.
The Irish extended their lead to 62-50 as junior forward Tyrone Nash offered a flash of his potential with a midcourt steal; save to himself while negotiating the sideline with a behind the back dribble; and three power dribbles later, dropping a perfect behind the back pass with his off hand to a trailing Harangody for the exclamation point slam.
Nash, who joined the senior Tri-Captains and Hansbrough in the starting lineup, totaled six points, five boards, and two steals in 26 minutes. The junior also offered a glimpse at his summer work with much more acceptable form at the free throw line, knocking down both chances (with a much higher release point).
Somewhat surprising was the overall lack of playing time by Carleton Scott (0 shots attempted in 13 minutes) and the seven-man rotation employed by Coach Brey against the overmatched Flyers.
Scott played an unselfish floor game, finishing with four boards, two assists, one steal, and one glass-cleaning weak side blocked shot – an element missing from the Irish defense last season.
Scott's classmate, junior Tim Abromaitis, served as the team's sixth man, earning 17 minutes at both guard and forward (more accurately defending against both forwards and off guards) while contributing four points (on two shots), four rebounds, and two steals.
Freshman small forward Joey Brooks and power forward Mike Broghammer entered the contest with just over a minute remaining.
Though fans have (understandably) clamored for a deeper bench for the Irish in recent seasons and logically expect it in 2009-10, the Notre Dame regulars undoubtedly need extended time to gel on the court before the bullets go live on November 14, when North Florida plays the first game of record in the Purcell Pavilion.
The visitors were led by point guard Chris McClellan's 18 points (7-14 from the field, 4-9 from beyond the arc) and center Marty Strus (14 points, 11 boards).
Notre Dame finished 27-55 from the floor (just 4-19 beyond the 3-point line) and hit each of its 12 team free throw attempts. Lewis, out-rebounded by Notre Dame 40-29, shot just 37 percent from the field on the evening, hitting 6 of 19 shots from deep.
Notre Dame's next exhibition contest is this Friday, November 6, as the Irish welcome Quincy College for a 7:30 tip.