Auguste’s career day leads Irish to win in conference opener
Brian Hartnett | Saturday, December 13, 2014
A trio of Florida State 7-footers had no answers for Notre Dame’s tallest player, 6-foot-10 junior forward Zach Auguste, at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday night.
Auguste set his career high with 26 points and added seven rebounds to launch Notre Dame past the Seminoles, 83-63, in the conference opener for both teams.
“Huge day for him … all he heard about was those big guys, and for him to perform like that, I thought was great,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of Auguste. “He got us started scoring inside and that was a key. And then he’s good facing the bucket, making decisions, and he’s really good at knowing how to roll off of great passing perimeter players.
“That’s a big step for him tonight and his confidence, that he did it in a league game.”
Auguste finished 11-for-15 shooting from the field and had five dunks, four of them in the first half for Notre Dame (10-1, 1-0 ACC). Florida State’s 7-foot centers — graduate student Kiel Turpin and juniors Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo — finished with a combined eight points and 11 rebounds, 10 of them from Bojanovsky. Notre Dame earned a 46-34 advantage over the Seminoles (4-5, 0-1) in points in the paint.
“A lot of people mentioned that I struggled against Michigan State [on Dec. 3], so I came, and I tried to make a statement,” Auguste said. “I wanted to show people that I can bang with the bigs.”
With the Irish down 19-15 near the halfway point of the first half, a pair of Auguste dunks helped ignite a Notre Dame run. Auguste dunked one home off a pass from senior guard Jerian Grant to cut Notre Dame’s deficit to two with 9:14 left in the half. A little over a minute later, he added a dunk off a throw-in pass to give Notre Dame a lead it would never relinquish.
In between the slams, senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton blocked Ojo on a dunk attempt, which led to a transition dunk for Grant to knot the game up at 19.
“I was waiting for that one, I was waiting for [Ojo] to come down the lane,” Connaughton said. “… I was happy we got that one and more happy that Jerian finished on the other end.”
From there, the Irish were rolling, as they busted open their lead with an 18-2 run near the end of the first half. Notre Dame scored 23 of the final 34 points of the half to take a 38-30 lead into halftime.
Brey said the halftime message revolved around finishing strong against Florida State, which was playing its first game without recently suspended junior guard and leading scorer Aaron Thomas.
“One of the things I talked to them about was trying to become cruel competitors and going after people,” Brey said. “We talked about that at halftime — could we put them away?”
Notre Dame answered that question early in the half, as it opened its lead to 22 points after a 22-8 run to start the second frame. The Irish led by as much as 28 points en route to their 20-point victory.
Grant and sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson posted 18 points apiece. Grant totaled five rebounds and five assists, while Jackson added seven rebounds and four assists.
“They’re assassins,” Brey said of his backcourt duo. “What they do to people and how they go after people, I am so excited about what’s developing with those two guys, and I’d certainly put them up against any backcourt in the country, the way they’re evolving right now.”
Notre Dame totaled more points Saturday night than it did in any ACC game last year. But Brey said the score wasn’t about making a statement in the conference, in which the Irish went 6-12 last season.
“We’re haven’t sent any messages,” he said. “My gosh, it’s just good to be 1-0.
“I’m thrilled about where we’re at. I think this is another confidence-giver for our group. … We’re 1-0, we’ll shut it down for exams for a little bit and then we have another big challenge Saturday.”
Notre Dame’s next challenge will come when the Irish face Purdue on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.