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Irish Spear No. 20 Sparty 70-52

By Mike Stacey - Writer

Credit: GIPHY

Admittedly, its been a long week for me. Between the holiday hangover, work, and the normal day to day life stuff I have been pretty run down as of late. Which is why I had to ask myself, did I really see what I just saw? Did the same Notre Dame team who got knocked around like a punching bag by the St. Bonaventure Bonnies just rag doll Michigan State? After several blinks and a quick pinch, I can confirm.


Notre Dame came into last nights contest in desperate need of changing the narrative. Up to this point in the season their one loss record was anything but impressive. Seemingly every game against what should be inferior opponents have proven to be a bigger challenge than expected. As I wrote in my previous article, the Irish defense has been the main culprit during this run. Each game the opposing team seems to get whatever they want whenever they want it (However, their last game proved the the offense is also capable of taking a night off). They needed Wednesday night in the Purcell Center to change the narrative, to prove they are not simply...

Credit: GIPHY

and they did just that....


The Irish started off the game with an intensity that we have not yet seen this season. Maybe it was because it was their first game against a ranked opponent, maybe it was finally having a raucous home crowd, maybe Mike Brey turned into Bobby Knight this week at practice. Whatever it was, it worked. With 10:51 remaining in the first half the Irish had already jumped out to a double digit lead in a game where the Irish would never trail again after beginning the contest down 2-0. Everything, and I mean everything the Irish did worked in the first half. Their offense continued to play Mike Brey ball. Continuous motion and ball movement made it nearly impossible for Michigan State to keep up and no matter who took the open shot, they shot it well as the Irish were 58% from the field in the first half. Cormac Ryan lead the offense after going on an absolute shooting clinic going for 20 points on 7 for 7 shooting with 5 three pointers, one of those from Curry Range. What I also found impressive was the play of freshman point guard JJ Starling. After an initial brick for three, J-Star, as Jordan Cornette called him, settled in and played more like a senior than true freshman in his first big game. He took what the defense gave him, attacked when needed, and allowed a fluent offense filled with seniors to do what it's capable of doing, score.


But enough about the offense, we already knew what they can do. What I am most excited about was the defense. It was quick, aggressive, and played with a toughness that was lacking all season. I was expecting Michigan State to be able to pound the Irish down low, but in the first half they did no such thing. Notre Dame did not give up any easy buckets, forcing Michigan State to take contested shots almost every possession. When MSU did try to go to the post, the Irish brought a quick double and forced a pass. Unlike in past games, the Irish rotation was up to the task and quickly recovered, forcing Michigan State to either reset the offense or force a bad shot. Most important of all, the Irish limited second chances. Sparty only had 2 offensive rebounds in the first half (3 total) with Nate playing every bit of his 6'10 stature and the guards doing their part to crash down low and help the lone big man out. It was as perfect a first half as any Notre Dame fan could have hoped for. What a time to be alive!


The beginning of the second half, however, brought back some old familiarities. The Spartans came out in attack mode and decided to play some bully ball. MSU made it clear they were going to use their size and physicality to get to the hoop and into the Irish bodies. Not only was MSU getting better shots, but they were starting to get the Irish into foul trouble, drawing 4 fouls in the first 5 minutes. The Irish simply looked outmatched on the defensive side of the ball and with their lead down to 15 with 16 minutes left, an old feeling was beginning to take over me. Panic.



Credit: GIPHY

However, it never got any better for MSU from there. The Irish subbed in Ven Allen Lubin for some extra beef down low and the Irish quickly got back on track. The game continued at an even pace for most of the second half, Notre Dame wasn't shooting as well as they did in the first half after the Spartans stepped up their defensive efforts, but they continued to grind. After a lot of back and forth between the two teams the Irish had two big back to back moments. A great Dane Goodwin defensive possession that ended with a block and a Nate Lazszewski dagger three at the other end assisted by Trey Wertz with 7:41 left, which officially put this game on ice. Any attempt at a run after that by MSU was quickly answered, usually by a phenomenal JJ Starling drive. JJ did a great job of letting his teammates flourish on offense all night, but when the offense stalled in the second half, he did it himself.


The Irish had played a complete game. They held Michigan State to 52 points, outrebounded them 30-29, limited them to shooting 38% from the field while shooting 50% themselves, and they finished with only 6 turnovers which felt like they all came in the final 3 minutes of the first half. All of the angst and concern going into this game about whether this team was capable enough to compete defensively was officially put to bed. Now, does this mean Notre Dame will not have any struggles defensively moving forward? God no. But at least now we know what they are capable of. We know that they have the ability to stick with their man, to get tough down low, to rotate on defense and to rebound as a team against a quality opponent. Going into this game, none of those things were a certainty. Most importantly? THEY now know they are capable of this level of play. I am not saying they weren't confident they could do it, but there's a big difference between believing and actually seeing the fruits of your labor. Now, to be fair, Michigan State came into this game down a couple key guys. This was also their 4th game in a week's time so we shouldn't be crowning Notre Dame ACC champs just yet. However, this was still a Tom Izzo lead team who has already beaten Kentucky and nearly took down Gonzaga. Although this doesn't guarantee success moving forward, it should certainly inspire it. If Notre Dame had any self doubt about whether they can play with the big boys last night's 70-52 victory should quickly put that to bed. This team, when playing to their potential, can flat out play and beat anyone.


Up next for the Irish will be another home game on December 3rd against a struggling Syracuse team who fell to 3-4 after a 29 points loss at Illinois. Nonetheless, this is their first ACC game of the year and against an opponent with another hall of fame coach and a team who always play them tough. This game too will be a test, but different from last nights. Last night proved the Irish can win against a top opponent, Saturday will be an opportunity to show they are mature enough to take care of business against a spiraling one. Go Irish.


BOX SCORE:

Starters:

C. Ryan- 23 points, 3 rebounds

N. Laszewski- 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists

T. Wertz- 8 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists

D. Goodwin- 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist

J. Starling- 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists (And one unreal block)


Bench:

V. Lubin- 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist









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