Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey utilized almost his full bench in the Irish's first exhibition game of the season, as Notre Dame defeated visiting St. Francis (Ill.) 87-56 on Friday night at Purcell Pavilion.
12 different players saw action in the first half alone for the Irish, including all three scholarship freshmen. Returning sophomore forward Martinas Geben, sophomore guard Matt Farrell and senior forward Austin Burgett all checked into the game before the 12:00 mark of the first half, and the freshmen - forward Matt Ryan, guard Rex Pflueger and forward Elijah Burns - followed suit before the period's conclusion.
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"We got a lot to work with," Brey said. "We've got a little more time to work on our rotation, but I thought the guys who got in there did what they were supposed to do.
"When the guys came in, they stayed in character with what they've been doing. Martin Geben is flying around, and he's bouncier - sticks his nose in there. [Austin] Torres is Torres, he's going to fly around and do his stuff. He did that tonight - almost killed himself - but that's our guy. Elijah Burns has been out with a concussion, but you know, our freshmen - they're really good players. I thought Pflueger goes in and competes and defends. Ryan can obviously really shoot the basketball.
"We got a lot of guys in there, and they're all doing what they're supposed to do. I just can't get 12 of them in the game after next Thursday, so we've got to start making some decisions. I tell you what though, they've made it hard on me, and that's a good thing."
There was little doubt about the outcome of the game past the opening minutes. St. Francis took an 11-6 lead at the 15:57 mark after a layup by junior guard Landus Anderson, helped by three early Irish turnovers. But Notre Dame answered the early challenge with a 17-0 run, punctuated by a Farrell jumper at the 10:37 mark of the first half.
The Irish extended their 23-11 lead to 31-15 with 7:03 left in the first half, and pulled away to lead 42-19 at halftime. The first half starters - junior guard Demetrius Jackson, junior guard Steve Vasturia, junior forward V.J. Beachem, sophomore forward Bonzie Colson and senior forward Zach Auguste - also began the second half action for Brey's squad, with the nucleus extending the Irish halftime lead to 63-32 at the 13:15 point of the second period before substitutions and the eventual outcome.
One of the few Irish negatives in the otherwise dominant first period was double-digit turnovers, with Notre Dame committing 10 behind some sloppy moments with the ball. They cleaned it up in the second half, committing only five more before the final buzzer, but that still made a game-total of 15.
"Just playing a little fast," Brey said. "I thought Demetrius and Zach got going so fast - 'just relax'.
"At the end of the day as we develop, we'll be good with the ball. We're pretty good with it overall, and we have been in practice. We were just a little excited tonight.
"I liked the fact though that we were attacking. When we're attacking that rim - and Zach and Demetrius are attack guys - you're going to live with a couple turnovers because we're going to get fouled, because they're going so hard to the rim."
In a game full of backup action - 12 of the 13 Irish who played scored in the contest - arguably the most impressive bench performance went to Farrell, who scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-2 from three-point range. He also contributed 4 assists and 2 rebounds with only one turnover in 18 minutes of play.
"He has really practiced well," Brey said. "I was just really pleased to see him basically do what he's doing in practice - giving Demetrius the ball, giving him a chance to slide off the ball.
"I thought his decisions with the ball have been better, and the one thing the guy is doing is making shots. He's an amazing weapon coming off the bench in that sense. We've got to keep nurturing that, I'm excited about that and it's been showing itself in practice.
"The one thing, I give him credit, he has to play against Jackson every day. Talk about a heck of a challenge. So when he gets to the game, he's relieved probably a little bit. This guy's not pressuring him like [Jackson] does, and driving down his throat. But he's gotten better, he's been more verbal and his decisions with the ball have been better. Right now he's a confident guy, and we have to keep developing that, that's a nice thing to know you have coming off the bench."
Four different players finished in double figures for the Irish, led by Colson's 12. Vasturia and Jackson also both contributed 10 points. The Irish dominated the glass with 15 offensive rebounds on 30 misses (finishing 29-of-59 from the field shooting), winning total rebounding 45-23.
Notre Dame will host one more exhibition against Caldwell on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. ET, before opening regular season play against St. Francis (Pa.) at home on Nov. 13.