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Hoops Notebook: 3-Point Defense Keys Win Over Princeton

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Mike Brey are the Irish improved to 7-2 in the NCAA Tournament over the past three seasons.
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Other notes, quotes and stats from Notre Dame’s 60-58 victory over Princeton on Thursday.

DEFENDING THE 3

There was no bigger key Thursday than Notre Dame’s 3-point defense against the Tigers.

Princeton’s free-flowing offense shot 31 3-pointers against the Irish, making eight of them (25.8 percent). That’s up from their season average of 26.3 attempts a game, but significantly lower than their shooting average (37.8).

Notre Dame’s opponents this season shot an average of 20.6 3-pointers a game, making 33.4 percent of those attempts. Junior guard Matt Farrell — who got a hand in the face of Princeton’s Devin Cannady on the potential game-winner — said the keys were running the Tigers off the 3-point line and rebounding.

“To force them into 8 for 31 is a heck of a job by us,” head coach Mike Brey said. “And it's probably why we won the game. We even blocked a couple. We got out. I thought our sense of urgency, switching stuff, getting out on shooters, was a key.

“… And we had to win it playing defense. Because we weren't in a great flow offensively. Some guys didn't shoot it as well as they'd liked, but we continued to guard. That's where we're pretty mature. When we're not scoring it doesn't affect us on the defensive end.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the shots his team took. The Tigers were able to capitalize, and it cost them an upset bid.

“The looks we got were good,” Henderson said. “Ten of those 17 were wide open, and just didn't go in. It went in on Wednesday, and they went in this morning, and they didn't go in during the game.”

Farrell said he never wants to guard Princeton’s offense again, but felt Notre Dame did a “good enough” job to escape with the win.

Notre Dame’s opponent Saturday — fourth-seeded West Virginia — is not a prolific 3-point shooting team. The Mountaineers get just 27.7 percent of their points from long range, 249th in the country.

PFLUEGER'S FACE

Notre Dame got a scare Thursday when sophomore guard Rex Pflueger took an elbow from a Princeton player, sustaining a cut on his forehead that required six stitches.

The injury happened at the 13:32 mark of the first half. Pflueger returned from the locker room with 7:26 remaining.

“I felt like I was getting surgery in that room,” said Pflueger, whose hands were covered in blood as he left the court. “I had that bright light, had three doctors around me. I thought I was awake during a surgery. It was cool, I was trying to talk the whole time and keep it light-hearted.”

Pflueger, whose blond hair partially covers the cut, said it’s the first time in his basketball career a cut has needed stitches. He wasn’t a fan of the procedure, he said, but bounced back quickly and finished with four points and two rebounds in 28 minutes.

Brey questioned Pflueger’s effectiveness after his return, only to be proven wrong.

“He's been tough as nails, and to come back — I actually said to my staff, he was back in, and I said ‘Is he right? Is he giving us anything?’” Brey said. “And he hit the baseline jump shot and I turned around and said ‘I guess he's OK.’ He really defends. That attention to detail, chasing shooters off the arc, he's fabulous about that.”

GOING THROUGH COLSON

The Irish attempted just five 3-pointers in the first half and six in the second half. The 11 total was a season low.

With a distinct size advantage — unusual for the Irish, who play a four-guard lineup — Notre Dame did most of its damage offensively in the paint Thursday.

Notre Dame scored half its points in the lane (30 of 60), running most of its offense through junior forward Bonzie Colson. The All-ACC big man finished 6-of-13 from the field for a game-high 18 points and shot 10 free throws.

“He's certainly the difference,” Brey said. “We were able to post him more. We really don't post him as much against ACC teams. He's out dribbling, exchanging, and shooting 15-footers and then sneaks into the post off a ball screen roll. But we were just throwing that darn thing in there. Looked like the (Luke) Harangody days. Just chuck it in there and see what happens.”

Farrell, who runs the offense, recognized the advantage Colson had against the Tigers.

“We made adjustments in the second half trying to get Bonzie down there,” Farrell said. “That really helped us getting him in the lane and getting deep position. He's really tough to guard down there. It's just about making adjustments. I don't know if we shot the ball very well, but, like I said, it's about making adjustments and we did what we had to do to get out of there with a win.”

ODDS & ENDS

• Colson said his injured right ankle was not an issue Thursday. Taped it up like usual and played through the soreness.

“He's sore, he's a warrior, he played through some soreness,” Brey said. “The great thing about the NCAA Tournament, you've got a day in between to really get that thing right again. And this time of year, you're playing on adrenaline anyways.”

• Notre Dame seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia won their 97th career game Thursday, tying the class of 2013 group for the most in school history. Beachem and Vasturia won their seventh NCAA Tournament game, matching the class of 1979.

• Notre Dame’s 60 points are the fewest it has scored in a win this season.

• Princeton had a 19-game losing streak snapped Thursday.

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