With the preseason favorites to win the Summit League visiting South Bend, tonight’s game against North Dakota State was no gimme for Notre Dame. And that’s exactly how it played out, as Marshall Bjorklund and his experienced teammates proved to be too much for the Fighting Irish to handle. Bjorklund scored 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting and as a team North Dakota State shot 50.9% from the field as they won 73-69.
Bjorklund may be a new name for some fans, but the fact of the matter is that he’s one of the better big men around. He entered Wednesday’s game shooting 69.7% from the field with all of his field goal attempts coming inside of the arc, and that percentage should go up based upon his performance at Notre Dame. The Irish didn’t have an answer for the senior until he fouled out, attempting the switch from man-to-man (Garrick Sherman got the assignment for much of the night) and zone to no avail.
Joining Bjorklund in double figures were Lawrence Alexander (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taylor Braun (13 points). To say the least, it wasn’t difficult to see why Saul Phillips’ team is expected by many to win the Summit League and make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.
In addition to their defensive issues Notre Dame also struggled offensively, as they shot 34.6% from the field with leading scorer Jerian Grant (nine points) missing all five of his attempts (9-for-11 FT). While Notre Dame’s performed well offensively this season, entering the game ranked 16th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, they’ve done so with their seven wins coming against teams with a combined record of 18-44. Against Indiana State and North Dakota State Notre Dame failed to shoot at least 40% in either game (they shot 51.5% at Iowa).
With the offensive options at Mike Brey’s disposal it may be safe to say that they’ll figure things out on that end of the floor, especially when it comes to Pat Connaughton attempting 20 shots while Grant and Eric Atkins combine for 12 field goal attempts. That will likely work itself out and it isn’t as if Connaughton isn’t a capable scorer, but in order for the Irish to be at their best they need Grant and Atkins to have a greater impact than they did on Wednesday night.
For North Dakota State this is a good for both themselves and the Summit League, while for Notre Dame Saturday’s game against Indiana takes on added importance. Their “best” win to date was a five-point win over Delaware, and with the now three defeats on their resume the Irish are in need of a resume-building win. Sure they’re once again in a very strong league, but no team wants to enter conference play without a non-conference victory of note.
Indiana and Ohio State (December 21) represent opportunities for Notre Dame, and due to their start to the season those contests have become even more important.