Zach Auguste leads Notre Dame in bounce-back win
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, January 14, 2016
After an offensive explosion this past Saturday in a loss to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame went with a far different approach Wednesday night against Georgia Tech, grinding out a 72-64 victory against the Yellow Jackets at Purcell Pavilion.
Georgia Tech (11-6, 1-3 ACC) came to Notre Dame with plenty of momentum, having just beaten then-No. 5 Virginia. But it was the Irish (11-5, 2-2) who ultimately pulled out the much-needed win after going 3-3 over the winter break.
“It was a big game,” senior forward Zach Auguste, who led all scorers with 24 point and chipped in nine rebounds, said. “Especially to bounce back. And hopefully we can use this as a boost and a confidence builder going into Duke [on Saturday] now.”
After the loss to Pittsburgh, Irish head coach Mike Brey changed his starting lineup and gave freshman forward Matt Ryan the nod in place of sophomore forward Bonzie Colson. Ryan said he was not nervous going into his first game as a starter.
“I’m just very calm,” Ryan said. “If I get too antsy, I’ll go out there and mess up, but I just stayed calm and played my game and just do what I’ve done.”
Ryan came out shooting, but went only 1-of-4 from the field in the first half. Though his shooting started cold, Ryan focused on defense and totaled a career high in rebounds with seven.
“I got beat the first time by one of their big guys, he just pushed me under,” Ryan said. “But then after that, we were up 9-4, I said, ‘Not anymore,’ and I got five in a row after that. It was just all about boxing out and being in position to go and get the ball.”
From the beginning, it was a defensive struggle as both teams struggled to find their rhythm on offense. For most of the first half, the Irish went with a four-around-one offense with Auguste in the middle and four smaller players around him.
“We played tonight a lot like we played against [Boston College],” Brey said. “We kind of yo-yoed Bonzie [Colson] and Zach [Auguste], now those guys will still play together, but there’s something about spacing. When you can open that floor up, it really helps us.”
Though the Irish spaced the floor, they struggled to make shots and ended the half ahead 30-27, despite shooting just 32 percent from the field.
Notre Dame came out strong in the second half as pick-and-rolls between junior guard Demetrius Jackson and Auguste led to three consecutive dunks from Auguste. Jackson had only two points in the first half but finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
“We just want [Jackson] to take what the defense gives him,” Brey said. “I thought he was kicking out to guys most of the night and getting them looks. I thought he got Zach some great stuff, he jump started Zach with some screen roll stuff, I thought that was very important.”
The Irish improved their shooting percentage to 48 percent in the second half, but they could not pull away from the Yellow Jackets as Georgia Tech answered every run the Irish made.
Then, with three minutes left in the game, Notre Dame began to pull away with a 6-0 run on six free throws by Auguste and Jackson. Brey pointed to the team’s ability to make clutch free throws and defensive composure down the stretch as key factors in the victory.
“I think it’s a huge step for us,” Brey said of his team’s 28-of-32 performance at the line Wednesday. “We were saying over there on the bench, ‘we need to win one of these’ to kind of see if we could win one of these. We haven’t been able to do it. I thought we were great, we got big defensive rebounds, I was thrilled with how we shot pressure-free throws tonight. We have not done that. Hopefully that’s an area where we’re more confident now. We had to look like we’re going to put one away, and it’s the first time this group has done that so something to build on I hope.”
The Irish will look to build on their latest win as they travel to No. 9 Duke, who fell on the road at Clemson last night, this weekend. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.