After providing intermittent sparks off the pine since losing his starting job, Peoples exploded last night vs. Providence, besting his career high – by halftime – with 17 points in just 12 minutes of floor time en route to a 53-32 halftime lead and 93-78 win over the Providence Friars.
"I just wanted to bring a lot of energy and come out and play hard," Peoples observed of his approach to the contest. "Once I hit a (three-pointer) I just wanted to shoot ‘em. I was in a zone I guess."
Peoples, whose previous career high of 14 also occurred vs. Providence (last February) led the Irish with 23 points, shooting 6-7 from the field and a perfect 5-5 effort from long range. He didn't attempt a shot from the field in the second stanza.
"I was just trying to create for others; keep the lead up." Peoples said of a second half that saw him connect on 6-6 from the free throw line while adding six rebounds, two steals, two assists, and more than a handful of hustle plays in 26 total minutes.
The veteran Irish backcourt of Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson controlled the game from the outset, combining for 13 first half assists, the bulk of which occurred on simple feeds to spot-up shooters on the wings and in the corner against the indifferent zone defense of Keno Davis' Friars.
"I thought we had a pretty good game plan coming in to try to take the interior away, but when you play a team that has 41 percent (3-point accuracy on the season)…11-22 isn't a crazy number that they put up," Davis explained of the home team's hot shooting from beyond the arc.
"When Notre Dame shoots that well from (three-point range) they can beat anybody in the country…anybody. Especially here, and because of Harangody, because when you can shoot that well, (the defense would have to) leave him one-on-one down there. What you try to do is stay with your game plan as much as possible and hope they don't continue to light it up."
Terrific TrioThough a bit off from long-range, Hansbrough finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, and a career-high assists 11 assists in his first Big East conference tussle. Jackson added 11 points and seven assists while playing turnover-free basketball for the entire 40 minutes.
"We really got in the gaps and found people and everyone was making shots," Hansbrough observed of his team's hot start vs. the Friars shaky zone defense. "They came out of that (zone) and we just kept attacking.
"We have some great shooters. You have to give credit to Tim Abromaitis and JP (Peoples). They're just spotting up and I'm just plopping it out there to them. They hit shots."
Lost in the Peoples explosion was the conference debut of redshirt-junior forward Tim Abromaitis. The team's top shooter netted 13 of his 22 points in the opening half, finishing 8-14 from the field for the contest including a 5-8 effort from beyond the arc.
"I think it's just another case of me spotting up in the corners and Ben and Tory finding me," the junior explained of the consistent and now expected scoring punch he's provided this season. "Finding open guys, whether it was me or Jon…that really put us out in front.
"It makes it really easy for me (when Hansbrough and Jackson control the game), spotting up out there. They get in the lane so well….Tory starting the break and Ben penetrating, I didn't really have to cut that much or move without the ball to get open shots tonight."
Irish head coach Mike Brey noted his squad totaled 15 assists in the first 20 minutes as a key to contest. The Irish finished with 21 for the game on 31 made field goals (Providence had just nine total assists on the same number of made shots).
The victory marked Brey's 200th as head man of the Irish. Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick was in attendance to present Brey with the game ball after the contest.
"I've had really good players and I've had a great staff. I've been really fortunate," Brey explained. "I've been here 10 years and we've had a good run. We've been pretty consistent and competitive but what really matters is 1-0 in this league (at present). That really means a lot."
The Machine shows his human sideThe Irish jumped on and held off the visitors without a strong offensive performance from All American candidate Luke Harangody, who missed 15 of his 21 shots from the floor while converting just 7-14 from the charity stripe.
(Harangody was just 3-10 from the field in the first half while his teammates ripped the nets, knocking down 17 of 26 shots).
"I think you have to give them some credit defensively," Brey noted of the Friars effort on Harangody. "They have some long, athletic guys. I also think Luke tied himself in knots a couple of times and got a little frustrated because he missed some shots. "For us to win with him (not in rhythm) that's a good thing. I though that was a positive sign."
Harangody spent too much time on perimeter, settling for mid-range jumps shots rather than patiently working for his shot on the low blocks.
Davis was proud of the effort of his interior defense.
"I'd rate them very high in (terms of) effort. I thought they gave everything they could in trying to body (Harangody), to keep him in front (between the defenders and the basket) and to not be outmuscled by the pre-season player of the year."
Notre Dame's next game is Saturday afternoon in Hartford vs. current No. 10 Connecticut. The Huskies were upset Wednesday, 71-69 at Cincinnati.
"It will be a wild atmosphere, a Big East road atmosphere," Brey observed. "Can we be poised in that (situation)?"
Hansbrough concurred, and knows the Huskies will give the Irish everything they can handle after dropping to 0-1 in conference play.
"We have to have toughness and we have to defend," Hansbrough stated as keys to Saturday's outcome. "The things to work on (are) rebounding and defending. You have to focus every possession because you're going to get peoples' best shot on the road."
If the Irish get their 'Peoples' best shot Saturday, they could leave the Nutmeg State with the program's first road win over the Huskies in the Brey era.