MORGANTOWN — Notre Dame boys’ basketball coach Jarrod West wanted to make sure his team understood the importance of Thursday night’s trip to second-ranked Trinity Christian.
“I tell the kids it’s the most important game of the regular season. To win here, as a coach you always think down the road about seeding, and we want everything to come through Notre Dame’s gym,” he said.
West need not have worried, as his No. 7 Irish came prepared to fight. The Fighting Irish used their size and strength to out-match the Warriors en route to a 63-61 win. The victory puts them in prime position to earn home-court advantage in post-season play.
“To beat them here — we’ll get them one more time in the regular season at our place and if we take care of business, they’ll have to come to us for the sectionals,” West said. “We came out and punched them in the first-round.”
The Warriors jumped out to a 35-30 halftime lead behind seven 3-pointers in the first-half, but struggled to combat the length and width of the Notre Dame defense as they ran into foul trouble, with a pair of their tallest players seeing limited second-half action.
The Irish capitalized on the opportunity, out-scoring their host, 22-15, in the third quarter to regain the lead and never looked back.
“The change in the game was that we had to go to the bench in the post. Logo [Zervos ] and Fletcher [Hartsock] were both in foul trouble and we had to go small in the post,” Warrior’s coach John Fowkes said.
“We pulled in Dakota [Shepherd], and he’s a 6’1 post player – they had two 6-5, 6-6 kids in there with some football kids, and I thought that was a difference. They started getting some offensive boards, and we had to play different defensively because we were in foul trouble.”
As the game stretched on, the contrast in size on the floor exposed a gap in the usually sound Trinity defense, as Notre Dame’s powerful trio in the post — Elijah Goodman, Nathan Helm, and Joel Maurer — combined for 28 points.
“We have a three-headed monster in there with Joel, Elijah, and Nate. I thought we wore them down with their size,” West said. “We have to be inside-out as a team and play complimentary basketball with our guards and post, and we stress that every day in practice.
“I told Elijah two days ago he’s probably been the best all-star in their role, coming off the bench as a sixth man. He’s a point-center. He passes the ball very well and he made a crucial assist to Joel late. He’s been very consistent and I call him our sixth starter, to be honest.”
The bruising post play from Goodman and his fellow centers drew attention away from the team’s wing play — particularly senior guard Gabe Zummo, who paced his squad with 24 points
“Their big kids got better from last year – last year we could sag off those kids, and let them do their own thing. We could just try to shut Gabe [Zummo] down,” Fowkes said.
“With the big kids playing the way they did tonight, really it was just Joel [Robertson], and that takes him away from the rebounds and he’s one of our most active kids. Their big kids were just very active, and they’re legitimate 6-6 boys.”
Robertson led the Warriors with 17 points, and Briston Bennett added 14 points. The Irish move to 6-0 with the win and return to the road Saturday as they visit Class AA No. 1 Chapmanville. The Warriors move to 7-1 with the loss and will be back in action Tuesday as they host Madonna.