SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — With Notre Dame star forward John Mooney out due to a stomach virus, the team’s other two tallest players each stepped up huge as the Fighting Irish pulled away late for a 63-53 victory over pesky Presbyterian on Monday night.
Sophomore forward Nate Laszewski delivered a pair of power-move dunks down the stretch on his way to a season-high 11 points, while senior center Juwan Durham added a career-high 15 rebounds to go with 11 points and four blocked shots.
Rex Pflueger scored 13 points and dealt six assists as Notre Dame (4-1) won its fourth straight, while fellow senior guard T.J. Gibbs gave the winners four players in double digits.
“I thought Nate Laszewski making some big plays like that at crunch time can only help him get more confident,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I thought Juwan Durham in the absence of Johnny was flying around and bouncing around more, and I thought Rex Pflueger and T.J. Gibbs just steadied us the whole night.”
Sophomore Cory Hightower paced the Blue Hose (1-3) with 15 points and eight rebounds. Ben Drake added 11 points.
Mooney — who had played in each of ND’s previous 73 games over the last two-plus seasons — is expected back in time for Thursday’s visit by Toledo (3-1), according to Brey.
The senior forward is the team’s top scorer at 16.5 points per game and entered Monday sixth in the nation in rebounding at 12.5.
Without Mooney, the Irish led just 51-49 before the 6-foot-10 Laszewski made a curl move for a dunk at 8:34 to go.
Laszewski, making his first start of the season, then drove the baseline for another dunk to up the spread to 55-50 at 7:19 left, igniting a clinching 9-0 run over the next six minutes.
“They ran one set and found some success and stayed in it and were able to get to the rim a few times down the stretch,” Presbyterian coach Quinton Ferrell said. “Their big guys sometimes set the screens and then slip out and then they’re a bear to guard. They put a lot of pressure on your defensive communication, and they confused us a few times late.”
The Blue Hose trailed by a high of 11 points at 13:41 remaining before closing to their 51-49 deficit with a 12-3 run.
They also led 28-25 in the first half before Notre Dame closed the half with a 14-3 spree.
It was the first-ever meeting between the programs.
Presbyterian: The Blue Hose, given an opening by virtue of Mooney’s absence, hung with the heavily favored Irish much of the way, but could not capitalize on ND’s compromised lineup in the long haul. It was the second of three chances they’ll have against Power 5 teams, the remaining one coming Dec. 21 at Michigan.
Notre Dame: ND’s intent coming off its season-opening 76-65 loss at now No. 5 North Carolina was to take care of business over each of six straight home games heading into another big matchup Dec. 4 at No. 6 Maryland. The Irish are two-thirds of the way there.
CARMODY OUT, TOO
Besides Mooney, the Irish were also missing sophomore guard Robby Carmody, still going through concussion protocol after sustaining a hit to the head during Friday’s win over Marshall.
Brey said he is hopeful of having Carmody back against Toledo as well.
“Talk about timing,” Brey pointed out of the durable Mooney sitting out on the same day he was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week for the first time in his career. “He was trying to get it all last year with all those double-doubles. He never got it, but I’m certainly thrilled for him to (get it) and have a week like he did.”
Mooney averaged 23 points and 16 rebounds in ND’s two victories last week.
Carmody is averaging 7.0 points and 1.3 steals in 16.5 minutes and is typically one of the first Irish off the bench.
HOSE NOT THAT BLUE
Ferrell was encouraged by his club’s work against the Irish, closing stretch aside.
“I’m not usually of that mindset,” the coach said of whether he was gratified at coming close, “but I do have a really young team. We had a tough loss in our home opener last week (77-55 against Morehead State), and all week we talked about responding, about being guys that don’t repeat the same mistakes, and I was really proud from that aspect. Hopefully, we continue to build on tonight’s performance.”
Presbyterian: The Hose play three games in three days at the Quinnipiac Bobcats Invitational in Hamden, Conn., beginning with Friday’s matchup against Sacred Heart.
Notre Dame: The Irish look to complete a sweep in the five-team, round-robin Men Against Breast Cancer Invitational when they host Toledo on Thursday.