A.J. Burgett scores 14, Zach Auguste records double-double in win as Demetrius Jackson returns
Alex Carson | Monday, February 1, 2016
Neither senior forward A.J. Burgett nor junior guard Demetrius Jackson had much of an impact Thursday as No. 25 Notre Dame fell at Syracuse, 81-66. Burgett saw three minutes of late action, while Jackson was out with a pulled hamstring.
That was far from the case Sunday afternoon, however, as the Irish (15-6, 6-3 ACC) rolled to an 85-62 victory over visiting Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion.
Burgett, who had played just 41 minutes all season prior to starting Sunday’s contest, made his impact felt early on against the Demon Deacons (10-11, 1-8), grabbing the rebound on Notre Dame’s first two defensive possessions before hitting an early 3-pointer on his first attempt from the field.
That early momentum was something Burgett was able to carry forward in his first start since 2014, as he shot the ball well en route to a 14-point performance on the strength of a 4-for-6 day behind the 3-point arc.
The senior captain, who typically serves as the “handshake guy” during pregame warmups, said it was a different experience before tipoff.
“It was weird sitting down watching the intro video and going through the handshakes and whatnot,” Burgett said. “It was a little different, but it felt right.”
Irish head coach Mike Brey said that after Thursday’s lackluster performance at Syracuse that he wanted to start with age, not youth against the Demon Deacons.
“He is a stretch four. Here’s a guy that’s been in our program for a while,” Brey said of Burgett. “No one’s respected more on our team than him because he leads, he has a great attitude, and he really hadn’t played much.
“ … I think what [playing Burgett] does, it really helps the other three captains to have him out there, to have another man out there and I was just in the thing of, ‘Let’s start old.’”
Burgett, who averaged 14.8 minutes per game his sophomore year before playing just 180 minutes over the last season and a half, said it was difficult persevering through his spell on the bench.
“It was hard at times,” Burgett said. “ … You’ve just got to come to practice every day, be willing to work really hard and try and get people better even if you’re not playing.”
Burgett wasn’t the only Irish player reappearing in the starting five though. Jackson returned after missing Thursday’s game against Syracuse with a strong all-around performance, grabbing 14 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the win.
“Sure is nice having the best guard in the country back,” Brey said. “God, I’m a much better coach when that guy’s around.”
Irish senior forward Zach Auguste said there was an improvement offensively from Thursday to Sunday, crediting that change to Jackson’s return.
“He was doing a lot of things multiple ways, and it was great to have him back,“ Auguste said. “Obviously, our offense flowed much better than usual.”
Jackson, who noted he hadn’t suffered a similar injury before, said he kept the thought of re-injury out of his mind on the floor Sunday.
“Nah, I just try not to think about stuff like that,” Jackson said. “Because you can sometimes think things into existence. I just wanted to go out, have fun, smile and be really happy to get back on the court. This is what I love to do.”
The breakout game from Burgett and return of Jackson to Notre Dame’s rotation overshadowed the best statistical performance on the floor Sunday, as Auguste led all players with 21 points and 12 rebounds, notching his 12th double-double of the year.
Brey praised the performance of his other senior captain postgame, reiterating his belief that Burgett’s presence aided his teammates.
“[Auguste] was unbelievable and fearless,” Brey said. “You know what helped him? Having his roommate playing with him. That’s not lost either in the group dynamic here.”
Auguste matched up against Wake Forest senior forward Devin Thomas on Sunday, who like Auguste averages a double-double this season. While Thomas finished with 19 points, most of them came with the Irish well ahead.
“I love the challenge, man,” Auguste said. “I wanted to go out there and prove that I’m one of the best bigs out there in the country, and I just love to do that and to go up against the best.”
With the win, Notre Dame moved to 6-0 this year following a loss.
“I think it’s just that edge we get back,” Auguste said. “We got slapped in the face out there [Thursday], and we want to get back and get another win.”
Junior forward V.J. Beachem hit a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 15 points Sunday while junior guard Steve Vasturia chipped in 10 points and four assists to get all five starters into double figures.
With a trip to No. 15 Miami (Fla.) on Wednesday followed by Saturday’s marquee home tilt with No. 2 North Carolina, Brey said he expects the same starting five to get the nod this week against a pair of veteran-led foes.
“I looked out before the center tip; two seniors, three juniors. Kinda like that math right now in this league,” Brey said.