When you have a young team as a coach, it’s important to win games to build momentum for the future foundation of your program.
The Notre Dame Titans have had some ups and downs this season, but reached their peak thus far in the year by recording their first victory of the 2017-18 campaign with a 47-28 win over Clay on Friday.
Titans head coach Garrick Anderson was elated with the outcome against the Panthers, especially with a roster that features five freshman who see valuable minutes.
“It’s a great win for our team,” Anderson said. “It was a much needed win for some confidence for our younger kids.”
Neither team had played a basketball game in 10 days due to weather and school cancellations, and Anderson said his group worked on defense during that time off.
That was evident in the fact that Notre Dame allowed just 28 points to Clay all night.
“This whole week with the snow days we really concentrated on defense,” Anderson said. “I tell the kids that it starts on the defensive end.”
With a mixture of defenses, the Titans forced a total of 16 turnovers in the game.
“Defensively, give it to Coach Anderson, they did a great job,” Panthers head coach Adam Betten said. “They changed their defenses on us and our guys weren’t able to get to the spots where we needed to. We tried to rush in too many offenses, and we didn’t settle down and move the ball like we needed to.”
“Unfortunately, we didn’t play our best basketball tonight, but give credit to Notre Dame. They came out and defended like we want to defend, and they came after it.”
Both teams searched for their identity early in the game, and Clay caught a big lift from their senior Caleb Cline in the opening quarter.
Cline would score nine points in the first period, and a team-high 13 in the game.
“He’s one of the leaders and he tried to put the team on his back,” Betten said on Cline. “Our goal is to try to attack the basket a little bit and I thought he did that early.”
“He was able to get his head down and get in there to mix it up a little bit, and was able to hit some big shots. He hit a big three from the corner too.”
After one, Clay led 11-10.
Late in the first quarter, though, Notre Dame found themselves in some foul trouble as starters Cole Harrell and Jackson Clark picked up two quick fouls apiece.
The foul trouble would force freshman Caleb Nichols to rise to the occasion, and he did just that in the second quarter.
Nichols gave the Titans a 13-10 lead on the opening play of the second quarter with a drive to the rim for an old fashioned three-point play after a foul.
“He does a great job of getting his feet set and ready to shoot the basketball,” Anderson said on Nichols. “Defensively, he’s everywhere.”
It should have come as no surprise to Nichols that his number was called from the bench. After all, it has been all season.
“I tell everyone on our bench to be ready when their time is called,” Anderson said. “He came off the bench and provided a spurt.”
Nichols would finish with nine points on the night.
From there at the 7:45 mark of the second quarter, Notre Dame would not trail for the remainder of the game.
After a bucket from Hunter Mathias of the Panthers to tie the score at 13, a triple from Ben Mader made the score 16-13 and the Titans never looked back.
“Mader hit big shots,” Betten said about the Notre Dame junior. “He just kept hitting threes, we wanted to deny him the ball but he was able to get free and get some shots.”
“When we had to change up and try something new we went to a zone and he was able to get free in the zone and hit a shot.”
Mader would finish with a team-high 13 points.
The defense for the Titans was on display for the rest of the evening, but most notably in the second quarter when they allowed just four points in eight minutes.
Notre Dame also caught a lift from freshman Miles Shipp and senior Tyler Speas down low, as the duo was able to grab offensive rebounds and finish at the basket with their size.
“Shipp around the basket just kept putting things in, and I thought Speas did a great job around the basket,” Betten said. “Those guys kind of just got all the loose balls and were able to put them back in.”
Shipp ended the night with 10 points, and Speas added eight.
At the half, the Titans were on top 25-15 after a dominant defensive quarter.
In the second half, not much changed for either side.
Notre Dame continued to be efficient on offense with balanced scoring efforts, and kept the attack on defense.
Through three quarters, the Titans held a 36-21 lead.
In the final frame, Mader sank a triple out of the gate to give Notre Dame their largest lead of the night at 39-21.
The Titans wouldn’t look back or let their foot off the gas on their way to a 47-28 victory in what was an all-around dominant performance.
It might have been the first win of the season for Notre Dame (1-11), but it was certainly one to remember.
Next up on the agenda for the Titans, winning two in a row. To do that, they’ll have to get through a tough Valley squad on Tuesday.
“Valley is a much improved team from last year and they’re playing pretty well right now, so I think it’ll be a good contest Tuesday,” Anderson said.
As for the Panthers (2-13), they’ll have a whole week of preparation before their next game, a meeting with New Boston on Friday.
Coach Betten said it will be back to the fundamentals in practice this week for his Clay squad.
“It’s one of those things where you bring these guys back in and you just have to work on the basics,” Betten said. “Continue to work on settling down offensively, moving the basketball, getting to the right spots.”
The Panthers gave New Boston all they could handle on December 15, falling 63-60 to the Tigers.
“They’re extremely talented,” Betten said. “We played them extremely close here, played them to three points here, and we were in that game the whole time.”
“We’ve got to keep them off the boards. They’ve got a lot of great guys.”