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Men’s Basketball

Colson scores 33 as Irish topple Florida State at home

| Monday, February 13, 2017

Junior forward Bonzie Colson holds a special place in the hearts of Irish fans for playing the role of an undersized big man. In his 2 1/2 years at Notre Dame, Colson has managed to produce double-doubles and give the Irish solid minutes in big games.

But even the most optimistic Notre Dame (19-7, 8-5 ACC) fan might not have suspected Colson was capable of the kind of game he had Saturday.

Colson’s previous career high was 31 points against Duke in a 95-91 win last season. But Colson did not even start in that game, and it was not quite the same level of dominance he displayed in Saturday night’s 84-72 victory over No. 14 Florida State (21-5, 9-4).

“That was one of the great performances in our program’s history,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said.

Irish junior forward Bonzie Colson looks to score against a Florida State defender during Notre Dame's 84-72 victory over the Seminoles on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Colson had a career-high 33 points in the game.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish junior forward Bonzie Colson looks to score against a Florida State defender during Notre Dame’s 84-72 victory over the Seminoles on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Colson had a career-high 33 points in the game.

“Just the adjustments we’ve made playing small and having him out on the perimeter touching it has really helped him. He’s just in an unbelievable groove right now. I turned to [associate head coach Rod] Balanis and said, ‘Do you think he can go for 40 tonight?’ I felt that good about him.”

In Colson’s previous career-high, he had to guard Marshall Plumlee, who is a more defensive-minded player. But Saturday, Colson shut down two of Florida State’s biggest offensive threats in freshman forward Jonathan Isaac and senior forward Marquez Smith while simultaneously putting on a show at the other end. Isaac scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting, and Smith added only six points.

And of course, on top of everything, one of Colson’s 33 points on the night marked his 1,000th career point at Notre Dame.

“I’m just trying to be more confident on that end,” Colson said. “I think our movements were helping us space the floor. We set good screens and rolled. My teammates are doing a great job shooting 3’s and attacking on that end, too.”

The Irish jumped out to a 7-6 lead following a Matt Farrell 3-pointer, and then extended that to 10-6 and 15-10 leads on 3-point shots from senior forward V.J. Beachem and Farrell, respectively. But the Seminoles refused to let the Irish pull away and showed their strength in the paint, putting up all 12 of their points in the first nine minutes from inside the painted square.

From the start of the night, it was clear Brey was utilizing a “small-ball” strategy, as freshman guard T.J. Gibbs made his first career start. Though Florida State dominated the points in the paint — 54-38 on the night — the Seminoles could not push the Irish off the boards, as Brey’s smaller lineup has been in past games. Instead, Notre Dame outrebounded Florida State, 41-34.

“Can we rebound? Can we outrebound teams? I think we did a good job as a team rebounding,” Colson said. “Matt [Farrell] had five, [Irish senior guard] Steve [Vasturia] had a lot. That’s something I’m coming to guys saying, ‘Hey, you have to rebound, you have to rebound. If you want to win, you have to rebound.’ I think us rebounding like that really gets us going.”

Brey kept his lineup small for most of the first half. Instead of senior forward Austin Torres — Brey’s usual substitution of choice in the first frame — sophomore guard Rex Pflueger and sophomore forward Matt Ryan made appearances. Pflueger finished the game with seven points and 25 minutes on the court.

Notre Dame’s lead ballooned to 10 in the first half, but a few turnovers at the top of the key gave Florida State easy transition buckets to pull the game back within five with four minutes to play in the period.

The Irish finished the frame with energy, however, playing arguably their most complete half of basketball this season. A few careless turnovers led to Seminole fast-break opportunities, but Florida State went only 2-of-9 from the free-throw line in the first half, minimizing the damage of Notre Dame’s mistakes.

Six Irish players saw more than 10 minutes on the court in the first half, after Brey admitted the Seminoles “wore down” his team in the two teams’ previous meeting.

With Gibbs picked up three fouls in the first half, Pflueger took his place in the starting lineup coming out of the break and Notre Dame’s success continued.

Pflueger drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put Notre Dame up 12, but a big dunk in response by Isaac silenced the crowd for a minute.

A few possessions later, Colson took Smith 1-on-1 for a 3-point play. A put-back by Colson resulted in a 53-36 Irish lead, followed by a Notre Dame timeout that was greeted with a loud ovation by the fans in Purcell.

Brey credited the crowd at Purcell for helping knock Florida State out of its rhythm.

“[The Seminoles] weren’t in a great rhythm,” Brey said. “I think our crowd was part of that. Our crowd made us believe and probably made them think, ‘Ooh, maybe not tonight’ once we got that thing to 10 or 12. We’ve had fabulous support here at home.”

From that point on, the game became the Bonzie Colson show. Colson knocked in 20 of his 33 points in the second half, scoring on pull-up jumpers, pick and rolls and isolations alike.

Colson’s other captains also made contributions. Junior guard Matt Farrell picked up 15 points and nine assists. Senior guard Steve Vasturia also scored 15 points and put an exclamation point on Notre Dame’s important 84-72 conference victory with something he’s never done before: a dunk.

The Irish next take on Boston College on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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