Irish move to 18-0 under Brey in home openers
Marek Mazurek | Tuesday, November 14, 2017
For much of the first half against Mount St. Mary’s, No. 13 Notre Dame looked out of sync. The Irish (2-0) even surrendered a 23-20 lead to the Mountaineers (0-2) with 6:23 left in the opening frame.
But the Irish remained calm coming out of the locker room after the half and went on a 14-0 run.
They never looked back, picking up their second win of the season, 88-62.
“First halves are overrated,” Brey joked after the game. “Sometimes you play the first half to get to the second half, as long as you’re not down 20. I loved that both games we really got going. Our defense to start the second half was key. I think we got 10 straight stops.”
Senior forward Bonzie Colson led all scorers with 27 points and 11 rebounds for his 25th-career double-double. Junior guard Rex Pflueger also picked up a double-double — the first of his career — with career-highs in both points and rebounds at 14 and 10.
Brey said Pfluger’s ability to guard Mount St. Mary’s 5-foot-5-inch point guard Junior Robinson and find a way to score at the same time stood out to him as impressive.
“We have him chasing around a shooter for 35 minutes off of double screens on Saturday,” Brey said. “Now we got him chasing a little point guard all over the place. To do what he did offensively and then rebounding and five assists, it’s really amazing. He’s such a winner, he does whatever it takes, he’s an ace in the hole, he can guard anybody on the perimeter.”
Notre Dame jumped out to an early advantage, leading 8-4 in the game’s first five minutes, but Mount St. Mary’s full-court press seemed to give the Irish problems.
In a departure from his preseason substitution patterns, Brey went with freshman wing D.J. Harvey as his first substitution, but every Irish starter other than Farrell rotated out in the game’s first eight minutes.
Brey also switched up his defense in the middle of the first half, opting into a 3-2 zone at times.
“One thing we did at the end [of the half], they were tricky to guard because they had four shooters out there, is we went a little smaller and switched everything,” Brey said of his first-half strategy. “We had bodies on people so they couldn’t get clean looks.”
Mount St. Mary’s tied the score at 14 with nine minutes left in the first half and continued to keep the pressure on Brey’s squad, forcing a five-second call on an inbounds pass and tying the scored at 18 with 7:36 left to play.
After a Colson layup, a made 3-pointer by senior guard Greg Alexander on Mount St. Mary’s next possession gave the Mountaineers a 21-20 lead.
But the Irish mounted a run to stop the bleeding with senior forward Bonzie Colson making four straight points on a put-back dunk and a fadeaway, and sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs capitalizing on a 3-point play.
The Irish defense picked up as well with three steals in the span of a few minutes and with 4:12 until halftime, Notre Dame jumped back out to a 31-23 lead on the back of a 9-0 run.
Notre Dame went into halftime leading 40-32 with Colson notching 16 points and Pflueger with another nine points and seven rebounds.
According to Pflueger, Brey’s halftime message was to be the strong second-team the Irish had been all of last year.
“[Brey] told us we were a second-half team, we have that energy we’ve been working on this whole preseason and coming out this game,” Pflueger said. “Our shots weren’t falling, it was a tight game and we knew we could open it up by playing some defense.”
The Irish came out strong in the second half with Colson picking a steal and a block on back-to-back Mount St. Mary’s possessions. Those turnovers lead to a 3-point play for senior forward Martinas Geben and a pair of made free-throws by Gibbs. A Farrell jumper made it a 7-0 run for the Irish out of the break.
After a timeout by the Mountaineers, Notre Dame would add seven more points to make it a 14-0 run coming out of halftime.
Brey said the defensive improvement the Irish showed during the run came from switching up the defense on ball screens.
“We went back to who we were to start the second half,” Brey said. “We just changed our ball-screen defense where our bigs didn’t extend so much on Robinson when he came off and that helped us. And we may have found something that’s good for us long-term on the ball screen.”
The Irish stranglehold on the game would continue for the remainder of the half. At the under-12 media timeout, Notre Dame held a 60-43 lead and by eight minutes to play, the lead was up to 20 points.
Notre Dame finished 4-for-12 from 3-point range, but shot 18-for-19 from the foul line and over 52 percent overall from the field.
“We’re not stressing about hitting threes, that will come,” Colson said. “I think with this team it’s different, we’re not making shots, but we’re still rebounding, we’re still defending we’re still communicating.”
Monday night’s game was the first of the year at Purcell Pavilion for the Irish, as the team outlasted DePaul on Saturday in Chicago. Purcell sported a new “#BreyChase” banner in the rafters to show the number of Irish head coach Mike Brey’s career wins as the head coach of Notre Dame.
With the win over the Mountaineers, Brey now has 384 wins at Notre Dame and needs just 10 to pass Digger Phelps for the all-time school record.