SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame’s usual defensive ace was also its offensive star Saturday as the Fighting Irish powered past DePaul 95-70.
Rex Pflueger, Notre Dame’s only senior scholarship player and one mired in a season-long shooting slump, busted out with a career-high 20 points that included 6 of 7 from the field, 4 of 4 on 3-pointers and 4 of 4 at the line.
Notre Dame (5-1) unleashed its best shooting display as a team as well.
“I’m thrilled for him,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of Pflueger, a 6-foot-6 guard who went into the day shooting 26 percent from the field with no double-digit scoring games this season. “He’s been an unbelievable captain, and he’s kind of the lone wolf leading. He does all the dirty work defensively. It’s like, ‘Yep, you’ve got their best guy again, you’re going to chase him.’ He thoroughly exhausts himself.”
Pflueger, who was held out of practice Thursday due to a back strain, showed no residual effects Saturday.
“My teammates really just found me in a lot of spots. I took my shots and felt confident,” said Pflueger, who poured in 17 of his points in the second half as the Irish quickly broke open a game they led just 39-36 at the break.
“They’ve been behind me the whole way,” Pflueger said of his teammates helping him through his shooting woes. “We’ve had some tough struggles with shooting the ball, but found a little rhythm today, and when I started getting a little groove on, they all started pushing me and getting me going. I really attribute that to our team morale and our culture.”
T.J. Gibbs matched his season high with 18 points for Notre Dame, while freshmen Nate Laszewski and Prentiss Hubb each tallied season bests of 15 points.
The Blue Demons (3-1), playing on the road for the first time this season, were led by Max Strus with 15 points. Jalen Coleman-Lands added 12.
The Irish outscored DePaul 32-10 over the first 8:12 of the second half for a 71-46 lead and never saw their advantage dip below 18 the rest of the way.
Notre Dame finished 33 of 60 (55 percent) from the field, including 13 of 27 (48 percent) from 3-point range.
The performance came after the Irish headed into the day hitting just 39 percent from the field overall this season and 28 percent outside the arc. They hadn’t made 44 percent of their field goals nor a third of their triples in any previous outing.
The Demons grabbed a 19-13 lead just over eight minutes into the game, but the Irish went ahead for good at 26-24 a few minutes later on a John Mooney slam.
“”I thought we were late to our coverages (in both halves),” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “It was just that we made shots (the first half), so it kind of covered it up. The second half, (Notre Dame) became more aggressive and we were still a step slow.”
Notre Dame: The Irish, who are in a “youth movement,” according to Brey, got a rousing boost of momentum as they head into the Power Five portion of their nonconference schedule. After hosting Illinois on Tuesday, they’ll play their next three games away from home against Oklahoma (5-1), No. 17 UCLA and No. 24 Purdue.
DePaul: The Demons continue to work on meshing together several veterans from different sources. The team’s been getting contributions from three transfers playing at DePaul for the first time in Coleman-Lands (Illinois), Femi Olujobi (North Carolina A&T) and Lyrick Shreiner (Cal State Northridge).
The 15 points each by Hubb and Laszewski helped leave Brey excited about his freshman class.
Laszewski gave the Irish a surge off the bench in the first half with 11 points in just 10 minutes. He finished the day 5 of 7 from the field, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers.
Hubb added a game-high five assists and committed just one turnover while manning the offense.
“I’m very, very impressed with our young guys,” Brey said. “Our four freshmen (including Robby Carmody and Dane Goodwin, who combined for 12 points) aren’t afraid and are just such an important part of things.”
DePaul had outrebounded each of its first three opponents this season by double digits, yet Notre Dame took that battle 39-32, helping the Irish to a 14-6 advantage in second-chance points.
Notre Dame is averaging nearly seven rebounds more per game than its opponents and has won the battle of the boards five times in its first six games.
Mooney registered his fourth straight double-digit rebounding game with 11.
Notre Dame: The Irish play the final of seven straight home games to start the season when Illinois visits Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
DePaul: The Demons, who were denied their first 4-0 start in 10 years, host Cleveland State on Wednesday.
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