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Kebba Njie makes Irish debut in Notre Dame MBB's romp over visiting Hawks

Penn State transfer Kebba Njie made his Notre Dame debut on Wednesday night in a 75-55 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore.
Penn State transfer Kebba Njie made his Notre Dame debut on Wednesday night in a 75-55 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore. (John Mersits, USA TODAY Sports Network)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With 2:52 left in a men’s college basketball game that had any suspense about the outcome drained from it before Notre Dame and Maryland Eastern Shore reached halftime, the Purcell Pavilion video board implored what was left of an overstated announced crowd to “get loud.”

For no apparent reason. And it complied.

What was worth making noise about, though, was the season debut of sophomore forward Kebba Njie, who contributed 15 mostly subtle minutes in ND’s 75-55 smothering Wednesday night of the visiting Hawks.

The 6-foot-10, 254-pound Penn State sophomore transfer had missed the first four Irish games of the season with a right-hand injury. His stat line Wednesday night was seven points off the bench, which included a 3-pointer, as well as four rebounds and a pronounced defensive presence.



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The significance of his return wasn’t about how he affected the game against the overmatched Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent from Princess Anne, Md. — in the first-ever meeting between the two schools — but how first-year Irish head coach Micah Shrewsberry believes Njie’s game will evolve.

“He's our defensive anchor,” Shrewsberry said with his Irish at 3-2 with a couple of days off for Thanksgiving before prepping for next Tuesday’s road game at South Carolina in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.

“You don't get big guys that communicate the way he does defensively. Now, he played for me last year, so he's a step ahead defensively than the other big guys, because he knows what to anticipate, what's coming and call it out.”

Njie played in all 37 games with 26 starts for a Penn State team that went 23-14 under Shrewsberry last season and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, and his focus was defense.

He did contribute 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the field as a freshman. But he’ll be more of a focal point in Notre Dame’s offense this season — eventually.

“He has the ability to settle us, where we can just throw the ball in the post and have somebody that can go and score,” Shrewsberry said. “Like, we've had to really, really work to get easy baskets. We've gotten into paint a lot. We've scored in the paint a lot, but now this gives us a chance to throw the ball in the post, get fouled a little bit, get some more free throws, like get some easy baskets. And it takes a little bit of pressure off some of the guards to have to make more plays.”

The ball movement for the Irish was outstanding, and it showed up in 18 assists on 28 field goals, a 51% showing from the field and 48 percent (13-of-27) on 3s after coming into the game ranked 345 among 351 Division I teams in shooting from the arc at 22.3%

Coach's son, freshman Braeden Shrewberry, canned four of them, on six attempts. Nine players in all made at least one 3, including walk-on Thomas Hattan. Eleven hit the scoring column and 16 players saw action.

A new era indeed.

“They’re shots that people work on,” coach Shrewsberry said of the 3-point-shooting resurgence, two games after going 2-for-26 from the arc in an 83-59 loss to Auburn. “Just the ball’s swinging to me, and I'm stepping into my shot and I'm shooting 3s. They're not the tough shots. We've been taking tough 3s. We're not a ‘2-for-26 from 3’ team. But when you take those shots, that's what you get.

“This is a byproduct of [ball movement]. So, we need to be this kind of team. We’re harder to guard when the ball is popping and moving and we're swinging it. Now guys are attacking, getting layups, getting open 3s.”

The younger Shrewsberry led Notre Dame with 13 points. Freshman Markus Burton, No. 4 nationally in scoring among freshmen, coming in, added 12 — his fifth double-figures-scoring game in ND’s five official games. The 5-11 point guard also added six rebounds, five assists and three steals — all team highs.

“Every little thing that happens,” coach Shrewsberry said, “it's just more and more belief in what we're doing, how we're playing, what we're talking about.”

Maryland Eastern Shore (2-3) — 50 years seasons removed from a big Sports Illustrated profile story on a team that averaged almost 100 points a game, strung together 20 wins and cracked the national rankings — got off to a promising 5-2 start and was giving Notre Dame some issues with a full-court zone press.

But the Irish settled in, cobbled together a 13-2 run to take a 15-7 lead and then took command with a 16-2 surge late in the first half.

Njie didn’t enter the game until the 15:03 mark of the first half and didn’t score his first points until after the halftime break.

“He's going to keep getting better,” Shrewsberry said. “He's a good player. He's an unselfish player. He'll keep getting his legs underneath him and doing what we need him to do.”

Added Njie, “I’m really excited not only for this [upcoming] road game, but for where this team is going to be going, I feel like the way we’ve playing on offense, moving the ball more and sharing the ball with each other, it’s really fun to watch but it’s also really fun to play in that.

“So, just taking that into next week and going from there. I’m not afraid of no smoke.”




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