While the first half gave plenty of cause for concern, Notre Dame showed a ton of ability in the end and put away a talented 49er team with ease. If we can see a lot more of the interior offense and commitment to defense the rest of the year, this squad could surprise some folks. Of course, more lackluster effort like what we gave in the first twenty minutes will bring us down.
Tory Jackson had some trouble against Long Beach's defensive pressure. On multiple occasions Dan Monson broke out a really great surprise halfcourt trap which caused multiple turnovers or Notre Dame timeouts. The overall athleticism from the other team gave our offense fits and kept Irish defenders on their heels for the whole first half. Tory did settle down nicely in the second period, but his troubles mirrored the rest of the team when we were struggling.
Of all the Notre Dame players, Ben Hansbrough was the only one who did not seem flustered by Long Beach's constant up-tempo game and press defense. Irish basketball teams have an irritating habit of letting the opponent dictate pace and tonight was no different. The 49ers wanted to run and we went right with them. On multiple occasions, the savvy Mississippi State transfer took the ball and motioned to his teammates to settle down and slow the pace before starting the offense. Great heads-up play by Hansbrough to see that the team was out of its element (a ridiculously high 16 turnovers tonight) and forcing things on both ends of the floor. Ben also showed a little toughness in playing through two injuries, including a rolled ankle that needed additional in-game taping.
Jonathan Peoples was decent, but overshadowed by Abromaitis again. He scored 10 and shot pretty well in 34 minutes, but he just looked slow against the talent of Long Beach. He's the least atheltic of our three guards and not a terrific ball-handler. Since Hansbrough showed his reliability as a floor general tonight, I'm really having trouble seeing how Peoples helps the team as a starter. Let him come off the bench to spell both guard positions, but there's no reason to have a slow combo guard get 30+ minutes a night.
Nash displayed some good effort on the boards and scoring in the paint, but once again he lost a lot of minutes to Abromaitis. There is no reason why these two guys cannot start next to each other. With Harangody playing more on the perimeter, we need a player who can move bodies around in the interior. Tyrone is the only rotation man who has that ability.
Luke displayed an annoying tendency to stick to the outside at the beginning of the game, which hurt our offense from the start. He is good out there and has a future as a small forward at the next level, but has to stop acting like this season is a year-long NBA tryout. For our offense to be effective, we need a guy who can consistently score in the post. Once Harangody stopped taking 15+ foot jumpers and moved towards the hoop, the Irish became pretty efficient offensively. That's no coincidence.
Abro was the only player to earn real minutes off the bench. 22 for the redshirt sophomore, scoring 11 on red-hot shooting (4-5, 3-3 from downtown). He seems like the real deal and could be a big difference maker this season. If Scott Martin's injury was the opportunity this guy needed to step into the rotation and become a reliable player, the Irish may have a little luck after all. Carleton Scott was benched after some ill-advised shooting and never really looked comfortable out there. I guess the only thing scarier than a seven-man rotation is a... six-man team? Hopefully he can figure out whatever was wrong tonight. Just a little extra junk time for the three freshmen as well.
I was hoping for a double-digit win tonight against a very solid mid-major squad and the team pulled it off with much more ease than could be expected in the first half. This is a win a team can build off of, so let's hope they learn from the experience and get better from here. Coach Brey says this squad has the greatest potential to improve of any he has coached. Hopefully they will live up to that billing.