Notre Dame got a key contribution from an unlikely source in its season finale at No. 8 Louisville.
Junior forward Martinas Geben had six points and four rebounds in 10 minutes last week against Boston College. He carried that into the Louisville game, playing 16 productive minutes off the bench against the high-powered Cardinals.
Geben had four points, four rebounds, two steals, an assist and took a charge against Louisville star Donovan Mitchell.
The 6-10 Lithuanian was a starter for the first 23 games of the season, but saw his role diminish as head coach Mike Brey moved to a full-time four-guard lineup that put Geben on the bench. Through the last several weeks, Geben said he’s tried to maintain his confidence.
“Obviously it’s always there, but everything starts dwindling when you don’t play as much or go through a couple did-not-plays,” Geben said.
Seeing a couple shots go in and pulling down a couple rebounds in recent games has helped his psyche, Geben said. It’s taken a unique motivational tactic by Brey to get Geben back into the fold.
“I haven’t talked to him for two weeks,” said Brey with a smile. “I’m just cold-shouldering him. I haven’t even looked at him. Today, I told him, ‘Great, you’re back, we need you.’ Now I’m not going to talk to him until we play. Sometimes tough love helps.”
Geben’s presence was key in the post as Notre Dame tried to weather Louisville’s size advantage. Though out-rebounded 44-27 in the the 71-64 loss, Geben gave the Irish a boost.
“First and foremost be the anchor down low and defend,” Geben said. “Be reliable for my teammates, whether it’s in help-side on ball screens. Just being very reliable on defense. Obviously box out and rebound to help us on the boards against bigger and more athletic teams, those are the main things.”
Despite the loss to the Cardinals, Brey left Louisville happy with the play of his top reserve forward. Geben could be critical as the Irish (23-8, 12-6) move into postseason play, which begins Thursday with the ACC Tournament.
“I’m so pleased with Martin Geben,” Brey said. “In this atmosphere against that front line, to do what he did…He’s playing better now than he did when he started, and it comes at the right time.
“I’m looking at a positive coming out of here, even though we lost. We’ve got another big that can help us in the postseason.”
Geben’s junior classmates were glad to see Saturday go Geben’s way.
“His mind’s been great this whole season, and we’re going to need him to produce like he did today,” junior forward Bonzie Colson said. “Rebounding, scoring, setting off-ball screens for V.J., Steve, and the guards and that’s something he can do. I’m there for him to keep giving him confidence.”
“I’m so proud of him,” said junior guard Matt Farrell, who played on the East Coast All-Stars with Geben in Italy last summer. “He was playing like he did when we went on our trip this summer. That’s what I’m telling him, just get back with that confidence.
“He played unbelievable today, and that’s huge going forward. We’re going to need all the big bodies for the postseason. If he can do that and do what he did today and we can rebound like that, we can be a special team.”
Farrell said it’s a confidence thing with Geben, who is averaging 3.4 points and 3.7 rebounds a game this season.
“He’s really talented. Trust me, I saw it when I went (to Italy) with him,” Farrell said. “He’s really, really talented and he’s just got to play with more confidence. When he does that, I don’t think he realizes how big he is sometimes. He’s a really big kid and he’s really good at this game. I’m always in his ear to not get frustrated and to keep doing what he did today.”
Geben’s outing was highlighted by a putback dunk off a missed layup by Farrell, rising and finishing against Louisville’s front line to cut the Cardinals’ lead to four with 1:30 left.
Did he surprise himself?
“I definitely knew I had it,” Geben said. “I don’t think many people know I have that in me. It’s nice to surprise some people every now and then.”