Colson, Irish win gut-check game
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, January 14, 2015
No. 12 Notre Dame faced the most adversity it had all season Wednesday night against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and the team handled it in a big way.
Energized by 10 points off the bench from sophomore guard V.J. Beachem and a career-high 10 points from freshman forward Bonzie Colson, the Irish (16-2, 4-1 ACC) rose to the occasion to notch a conference road win, 62-59.Coming off a loss to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday and playing only their second true road game of the season, the Irish were dealt another blow Wednesday morning when junior forward Zach Auguste was forced to miss the trip due to academic issues. Irish coach Mike Brey said after the game that when Auguste will return is “out of my hands,” but he is still practicing with the team. The coach is “hopeful” the junior will play again this season.
“This was a hard one,” Brey said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a team because we have the [Auguste] situation and they’ve got every reason to be distracted, but they came down here really focused.”
With a sudden open spot in the middle of the Irish lineup, Colson filled the void for his team in a big way, adding four rebounds and an assist to his stat line in 22 minutes of play while helping to limit Yellow Jacket senior center Demarco Cox to 17 points over 29 minutes. It was the freshman’s first substantial action in ACC play, and Brey praised Colson’s performance after the game.
“I look at [Colson] and maybe I should be fired [for not playing him sooner],” Brey said. “He’s been on my mind and I’m just thrilled for him. … His attitude has been so good through this first half of the season even though he’s not playing. He is a great teammate and … we’ve found another weapon on the front line we can use.”
Auguste, second on the team in rebounds (6.4 per game), blocks (15) and points (14.3 per game), has averaged just over 24 minutes a game up front for the Irish. Notre Dame felt his absence from the start, as the Yellow Jackets (9-7, 0-4 ACC) threw the ball inside early and often against Colson, fellow freshman forward Martinas Geben and sophomore forward Austin Torres. With Geben getting the start, it was the first time all season Brey was forced to deviate from his standard starting lineup of Auguste, senior guards Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton and sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia.
Georgia Tech shot 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) from the field in the first half on its way to a 38-30 lead, but Beachem prevented the deficit from being even larger, as he continued his strong recent play off the bench. Beachem came into the game averaging eight points per game, second off the bench in the ACC, and netted another seven points in the first half against the Yellow Jackets to keep the game close at half. Beachem finished the game with 10 points.
“The game wasn’t going easy early,” Brey said. “They defended us well. They were beating us up inside.”
Yet Notre Dame tightened down on the defensive end in the second half, specifically by picking up the Georgia Tech guards closer to the half-court line. By the end of the game, the Yellow Jackets held only a slight edge in points-in-the-paint, 28-24, and the Irish more than countered that with a 15-4 advantage in fast-break points.
“I thought in the second half we dug in and defended,” Brey said. “Then we got back into our offensive movement that’s been so good for us this year.”The Irish started the second half on a 7-0 run to trim the deficit to one, and a 3-pointer from Connaughton with 15 minutes remaining gave his team its first lead since the Irish were up 4-2 just under two minutes into the game. Connaughton finished the game with 10 points, one of five Irish players to score in double figures. Grant led the team with 12 points, including a late fadeaway 2-point shot to help Notre Dame to the win.
Georgia Tech led by as much as 12 in the first half, but the Irish pushed their way back into the game.
“I just love our toughness,” Brey said. “We’re not scared. We’re 2-0 on the road, and we’ve won in places we’ve never won before in North Carolina and Atlanta.
“But we know we’ve got a heck of a team coming to South Bend in Miami on Saturday.”
Miami went into Durham, North Carolina, on Tuesday night and routed Duke on its home floor, 90-74, and also took Virginia to double overtime Jan. 3. The Hurricanes (12-4, 2-1 ACC) and Irish are scheduled to tip Saturday at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.