Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball dusts Nazareth 87-37 in exhibition opener


Notre Dame played its first game at a fully open Purcell Pavilion in 601 days Friday night, the welcomed return to normalcy after a season where the Irish may as well have been moons away from their home crowd.

They hope it’s the start of a return to the national radar as well.

Notre Dame reopened its home arena’s gates in style, beating Nazareth College 87-37 in the first of two exhibition games before the Nov. 13 regular season opener vs. Cal State Northridge.

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As the score suggests, this wasn’t supposed to be much of a challenge for Notre Dame. Nazareth, a Division III school in suburban Rochester, N.Y. that competes in the Empire 8 Conference, was scheduled as a tune-up opponent.

A swift dispatching was the expectation and no reason to crown an arrival. Anything less would have ushered in some cause for concern. The Irish offered little room for the latter, handling the overmatched Golden Flyers like a team that intends to go places this year should.

“A lot of work to do, but I’m excited about who we can be,” head coach Mike Brey said.

Notre Dame shot 48.6 percent and 12-of-32 (37.5 percent) from three-point range. Five players scored in double figures, led by guard Cormac Ryan’s 16 points. Ryan also had six rebounds, four assists and was 6-of-11 from the floor. Yale graduate transfer Paul Atkinson Jr. had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Prentiss Hubb added 12 points and seven assists.

(FILE PHOTO) Notre Dame guard Prentiss Hubb had 12 points and seven assists in an exhibition win vs. Nazareth College (Robert Franklin/AP)

Notre Dame scored the first 18 points and led 49-13 at halftime. Nazareth, unable to generate any stops or buy a bucket, burned three of its four timeouts in the first half. None provided much of a fix. Notre Dame led 28-4 before nine minutes had passed.

With a pronounced size mismatch working to his advantage, Atkinson provided the initial spark in his first action since March 2020. He did not play last year when the Ivy League canceled its season. He scored a transition layup for Notre Dame’s first field goal, added a three-pointer on the next trip down the court and swatted a shot at the rim on the ensuing defensive possession.

“I was just excited to get on the court, waiting for it to be 7 o’clock since I woke up this morning,” Atkinson said.

With senior guard Trey Wertz out due to an ankle sprain, freshman Blake Wesley was the first player off Notre Dame’s bench. The South Bend native scored 11 points and was the No. 2 point guard when Hubb needed a rest. Wesley’s first basket was a long 2-point jumper off the dribble. He deflected a perimeter pass on the ensuing defensive possession, chased it down and finished the play with a dunk.

All told, Wesley was 5-of-8 from the floor with four rebounds, two assists and a turnover in 21 minutes.

“He just really feels he belongs,” Brey said. “He’s so confident. It started Day 1 in summer school.

“Feel for the game, willingness to defend, unselfish and great passer. He gets to 15 [feet] and shoots it. There’s a great vibe about him. He’s an early substitute and he could be a starter before it’s over.”

Fellow South Bend product JR Konieczny played 18 minutes and had four points. He made a mid-range pull-up off a left-hand drive and jumped a passing lane for a steal that led to a dunk.

Notre Dame mixed man and zone on defense, adhering to the no-middle principles on both. A cacophony of defensive communication echoed through the Purcell Pavilion seating bowl for much of the night. Nazareth shot just 23 percent from the floor, including a 15.8 percent mark in the first half. It missed its first 15 three-point attempts.

“The carryover from what we’ve been talking about was really good,” Brey said. “They’re trying to do everything we’re asking them to do, especially on the defensive end.”

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