Notre Dame escapes Radford in home opener, 79-76

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Cormac Ryan played the hero in Notre Dame’s 79-76 win over Radford on Thursday.

With the Irish trailing 76-75, he drove hard to the right and finished a contested lay-up with 9 seconds left to take a one-point lead.

Ryan finished with 10 points and coach Mike Brey improved to 23-0 in the home opener at Notre Dame.

The Irish trailed for almost 75% of the game, including 19 minutes in the second half.

“I’m proud that our group got away tonight because there were a few times less than 10 minutes where I didn’t think [we’re going to]said coach Mike Brey.

Forward Nate Laszewski led the game with 28 points and 12 rebounds, the former a career high. He also had three assists.

The 6-10 striker came on strong when the Irish needed him most: to start the game and down the stretch.

He scored Notre Dame’s first nine points, then caught fire in the final five minutes of the game, scoring 10 of Notre Dame’s 15 points.

Trey Wertz stepped up the transfer of Niagara grad Marcus Hammond. He scored 18 of seven of nine from the field and made four of five attempts from beyond the arc.

“I said to Trey Wertz the other day, ‘Don’t surrender the position. Take it,’ Brey said. “Well, of course he put an exclamation on it. We’ll need Marcus Hammond when he will come back, but he doesn’t need to start. You just took this job.

Despite all their attacking success, the Irish struggled defensively. Notre Dame allowed Radford to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc and forced just six turnovers.

Freshman JJ Starling made his Fighting Irish debut. The McDonald’s All-American started and scored 9 points.

“It was a great experience,” Brey said. “He was in there in his first college game when he was hitting the fan. I thought he made some great plays and was part of that vibe that figured out how to win.

BIG PICTURE

The Irish survived playing just six players in their win over Radford, with freshman big man Ven-Allen Lubin contributing six points in 16 minutes off the bench.

Notre Dame will likely continue its six-man rotation for at least the next two games without Hammond.

Brey is used to relying on a thin bench, even though four starters are fifth-year players.

“I would like to give them a little more kick sometimes,” Brey said, “but the old guys, they know how to play through stuff.”

At the same time, there’s little room for error when two-thirds of the rotation are real freshmen. How the Irish navigate the rest of November could prove important in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.

HE SAID IT

The Irish take revenge.

Six mid-major programs won at Notre Dame during Mike Brey’s tenure, but Radford was the first to return after beating the Irish 63-60 in 2018.

Brey sounded more relieved than boastful at the end of his postgame press conference.

“Radford will never come back in my tenure,” Brey said.

NEXT

The Irish will host Youngstown State at 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 13. The top-flight Penguins are 2-0 and averaging 91 points per game.

“Youngstown State has a chance to win their league,” Brey said. “It sets you up for ACC play. I understand all of that, but it was more for the schedule strength calculations.

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