Meanwhile, ND struggled in losses at DePaul and at home to Syracuse… and even though the Irish put 82 points up on the board in the loss to the Orange, it became apparent the Friars might hold an advantage in a match-up with ND, thanks in part to an edge in athleticism, quickness, and team speed.
Perspective can change in a hurry, however. And reality can settle in like a bad cold.
Notre Dame deserves all of the credit for bombarding the Friars from long distance, using the 3-point line as a deadly weapon in dispatching PC 92-77 Saturday night in South Bend, IN. Even more impressive than the lights-out shooting was the headiness of senior guard Chris Quinn, for whom the Friars had no answers. An unassuming 6-2, quasi-point guard, Quinn doesn't look like he can beat you off the dribble, doesn't look like he can get his shot off over quicker or taller opponents, and looks more like he belongs in a weekend rec league than the Big East.
Yet, he dropped 31 points on the Friars at the Joyce Center, and ran the show with the poise and precision of an orchestra conductor.
Quinn was the man. The Friars were simply overmatched. Junior guard Colin Falls also dropped in 24 points, while freshman guard Kyle McAlarney chipped in 12 – all in the first half – as the Irish backcourt combined for a staggering 67 points, out of the 92 the team put on the board. Three-point shots rained in from everywhere, and while the Friar defense was soft on the perimeter at the start, once the Irish started firing them in, there was little chance to slow them down.
The Friars did change defenses, made personnel switches, ran traps, pressed, and even fouled. As Notre Dame ran screens for their shooters, however, the Friars often failed to get around those screens, resulting in clean looks at the basket. Yet sometimes, when shooters get in gear, there's little that can be done to slow them down. Call it "the zone," or whatever you like. But whatever it was, ND's guards were in it.
It was a dismal night for the Friar defense. Yet, there were a couple of bright spots…again, there was no "quit" on the floor, as Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku kept up the effort until the end. Curry led the way with 19 points, and hit several tough floaters in the lane, which is becoming his calling-card. Efejuku has realized there are few match-ups he can't win when he slashes into the paint, and uses his physical ability to create scoring chances. He did that for 18 points against the Irish, and Jon Kale also played well, with his second career double-double – 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Conversely, it was tough times for the rest of the team, particularly Randall Hanke, Geoff McDermott and Donnie McGrath. Hanke spent most of the week recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis, and only returned to practice on Thursday. McDermott created a startling moment at the team hotel in South Bend, as he arrived on crutches… and ambled around slowly with an orthopedic boot on his left foot.
Geoff is suffering from what was termed a "hot spot," or a stress "bruise" on the top of his left foot, and as a precaution, he is keeping weight and stress off of the foot when he's not playing or practicing. It is not a stress fracture. He is able to take part in full activities when needed, and the team expects Geoff to return to normal in about three weeks. McGrath has been in a physical funk for the better part of the last two weeks, and has connected on just 7 of his last 24 three-point attempts. Even more telling, is McGrath still passing up open shots – and that simply cannot happen for this team to have any success. McGrath is the two-guard, and the team needs him to score.
The trip will continue Tuesday night in Morgantown, WV against the nationally-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers. The WVU Coliseum is one of the toughest – and loudest – places to play in the league. It will take a supreme effort to hang in there with a team that reached the Elite 8 last season, and has most of that machine back again this year. The Friars are spending the weekend in Chicago, taking a bus from South Bend to the Windy City after the game Saturday night, and they'll stay until Monday afternoon.
They'll be using the time to practice, to try to improve, and to make sure they're all still "on the same page." Monday afternoon, the team will fly to Pittsburgh, bus into Morgantown, and take on the Mountaineers Tuesday night. A chartered flight will bring them home after the game in WV, in time for classes to resume on Wednesday.
There is very little margin for error on this team, to be sure. Eight scholarship players – 4 freshmen plus 2 sophomores…equals no depth. For the Friars to have any success at all in the Big East this season, all working parts will need to be in-sync on any given night. When they sputter, so will the team. When they fail to defend, they'll fail to win. And if they don't shoot straight, well…you get the picture. It isn't pretty, right now. Chris Quinn and the Fighting Irish saw to that on Saturday night.
On The Road With John Rooke: Notre Dame
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