Notre Dame rolls over Bryant to pick up first win of the season
Marek Mazurek | Monday, November 14, 2016
Coming off of back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Notre Dame started its season with an 89-64 win over Bryant on Saturday.
Seniors Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem and junior Bonzie Colson combined for 61 of Notre Dame’s 89 points on the night, but the Irish (1-0) struggled to put the Bulldogs (0-1) away until late in the second half.
“I think that was good because it was a hard game,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “ … The ‘big three’ had to play more minutes.”
Neither team appeared ready for the noon start time as the game’s first two minutes saw no points. Colson soon tallied Notre Dame’s first points of the season with a 3-point basket.
The Irish jumped out to a nine-point lead early, but the Bulldogs answered with a 12-2 run to take a 19-15 lead. Beachem put the Irish back on top, however, scoring seven consecutive points. Brey said Beachem played solid minutes on both sides of the floor.
“We had him on [Bryant junior guard Hunter] Ware, who’s a shooter, he’s taking away that guy, which is exhausting, chasing shooters through stuff,” Brey said. “And then [he is] being efficient on the other end. That’s a big step forward for him … He was so ready to play in our shoot-around this morning. I love when he puts it on the floor and gets to the bucket, and getting to the foul-line for him is an added dimension.”
Beachem went 7-of-7 from the free throw line, and the Irish made 26-of-29 foul shots as a team. Colson and Beachem led the Irish into halftime with a 43-31 lead.
Despite the 12-point lead, the Irish didn’t make a run in the opening minutes of the second half. Notre Dame’s poor 3-point shooting — 3-for-16 on the afternoon — caused the two teams to trade baskets for 10 minutes coming out of the break.
Finally, however, sophomore guard Rex Pflueger sparked what proved to be the winning run with a 3-point play with 11 minutes to go. Pflueger stole the ball on the defensive end, dribbled it the length of the court and finished through the contact to put Notre Dame up 63-49.
“Rex, he’s fabulous, are you kidding me? I love that guy,” Brey said. “How about that nose for the ball? That drive and 3-point play was a big play. That kind of said, ‘OK, we’re going to get out of here today.’”
Soon after Pflueger’s play, Vasturia made his only 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead to 17 points. After a dunk from senior forward Austin Torres, Pflueger came up with another old-fashioned 3-point play to push the lead to 22.
Colson said the key to the run was figuring out Bryant’s offense.
“It was just learning what they were doing on both sides, we have to do a better job of understanding what they’re doing early so they won’t be able to do that,” Colson said. “But we clicked, sometimes it takes time to find out what they’re doing and you get stops and you run from there.”
After Pflueger’s second 3-point play, Notre Dame ground out the rest of the game to take the 89-61 victory.
Brey wasn’t shy about going to his bench in the season’s first game — 12 Irish players saw time on the court and 10 scored points. Junior forward Martinas Geben put up four points and seven rebounds in his first regular season game as a starter and freshman guard Temple Gibbs saw extended playing time while scoring five points. Junior guard Matt Farrell reached career highs in steals and assists with three and nine, respectively, and sophomore forward Elijah Burns notched five points as well.
“I thought our bench gave us great stuff in the second half,” Brey said. “We went to Torres, we played a little small because they were smaller. I liked what Torres gave us, I liked what Elijah gave us.”
The Irish next take the court Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion versus Seattle at 7 p.m.