The first road trip of the season for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team is accompanied by a question wrapped in a numerical riddle.
Namely, can a six-man rotation help the Fighting Irish open a season with six straight wins for the first time in five years?
The Fighting Irish will look to remain perfect Friday afternoon, when they are slated to face St. Bonaventure in the showcase game of the Gotham Classic at UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams earned a Gotham Classic win at home Tuesday night, when Notre Dame pulled away from Bowling Green over the final 10 minutes of an 82-66 victory and St. Bonaventure defeated Southern Indiana, 80-66.
Notre Dame’s most lopsided win of the season was anything but easy. The Fighting Irish (5-0), which won their first four games by a combined 23 points and needed last-minute comebacks to edge mid-major foes Radford and Lipscomb, trailed Bowling Green 61-59 with under 11 minutes to play before ending the game on a 23-5 run.
Freshman JJ Starling — one of two non-seniors in the six-man rotation coach Mike Brey is utilizing while Marcus Hammond recovers from a knee injury — began the run with consecutive baskets and scored eight points in the surge for the Fighting Irish. Starling finished with a team-high 23 points while fellow freshman Ven-Allen Lubin, the only reserve seeing regular minutes, added 12 points.
“They played like old guys tonight,” Brey said. “They saved us.”
There aren’t any old guys for St. Bonaventure (3-2), a perennial Atlantic 10 contender who had a trio of seniors — Jaren Holmes, Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi — transfer to Power 5 schools after the Bonnies advanced to the final four of the NIT last spring.
St. Bonaventure is rebuilding on the fly with a roster comprised entirely of underclassmen — including redshirt junior Daryl Banks III, who helped Saint Peter’s to the Elite Eight last spring and is averaging 19.2 points per game this season.
The on-the-fly adjustments have been a challenge for the Bonnies, who have won two straight after consecutive losses to Canisius and South Dakota State in which they blew late six-point leads.
“We are not nearly where we need to be,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “At times we look good, at times we look like we haven’t practiced. But we’re getting better.”
Notre Dame leads the all-time series between the schools, 5-2. The teams last played on Dec. 22, 1994, when the host Fighting Irish earned a 57-54 victory.