Brey breaks record as Irish roll without Colson or Farrell
Joe Everett | Thursday, January 4, 2018
Over his 18 years as head coach of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team, perhaps the most successful traits Mike Brey has honed are how to get the most out of his players and to simply find a way to win.
In order to pass Digger Phelps for first place in the school’s all-time coaching wins record, Brey had to utilize those skills Wednesday night for No. 394.
Overcoming the glaring absences of preseason All-American senior forward Bonzie Colson and the additional loss of senior guard Matt Farrell — who went down with an ankle injury in the first half—Notre Dame still found a way to win.
Even more surprisingly, the Irish won handily, beating North Carolina State 88-58 inside Purcell Pavilion.
In the absence of the two seniors, sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs scored 22 points, freshman wing D.J. Harvey dropped a career-high 17 points in his first start, junior guard Rex Pflueger poured in 16 and senior forward Martinas Geben recorded a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds. With contributions from all over, Brey was proud of the team win.
“Our group just really responded,” Brey said. “Couldn’t have been prouder of the group, given what happened in the last day with [Bonzie], and really only having one practice to talk about re-inventing ourselves a little bit, but just really, really proud of them … to be 2-0 in this league, handling your business at home, given what we’ve gone through with some injuries, I love the position we’re in.”
Against the Wolfpack (10-5, 0-2 ACC) the Irish (12-3, 2-0 ACC) certainly re-invented the way they played the first half. Considered a “second-half team” for much of the season leading up to Wednesday night, the Irish flipped the script and instead registered a record-setting first half.
Gibbs set the tone with a 3-pointer on the opening possession. Then, Harvey hit his first shot —a 3 — to begin what would be a career night. Farrell took over from there, as the senior hit three 3-pointers and turned fast breaks into easy dunks for Pflueger, Geben and sophomore guard Nikola Djogo to give the Irish a 30-22 lead and sending the crowd inside Purcell Pavilion into a frenzy.
But with just over five minutes to go in the first half, Farrell took a hard foul on a drive to the basket and sprained his ankle in the process, leaving the game for good. The timing appeared opportune for the Wolfpack to rally and grab momentum heading into halftime, but the Irish supporting cast stepped up in the absence of the seniors. Gibbs and Pflueger hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and two minutes later, a Harvey 3 put Notre Dame up 46-32.
Led by these efforts, the Irish went into the locker room up 48-36, shooting 63 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Notre Dame’s 48 first-half points were the most first-half points its ever scored in an ACC game.
“The way we came out in the first half was great,” Harvey said on the strong start. “People were counting us out because of [Bonzie being out], so we all had a chip on our shoulder. We got the ball moving, and played a Notre Dame style of basketball, and then also we locked in defensively … just a great win.”
“The start was big for us,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t know how we’re going to come out missing our energy guy, our ‘dog’ as we like to say, but that was huge for us because at that point we asserted ourselves and knew that we could do this. Missing him is a big piece, but at the same time, the show goes on and we can still do some things.”
Refusing to grow complacent, the Irish continued to assert themselves in the second half, especially on the defensive end. By the time North Carolina State took a timeout with 11:37 to go in the second half, the Irish had gone on a 17-2 run to lead 65-38, holding the Wolfpack to shoot 0-of-11 from the field during that stretch.
From there, the Irish continued to maintain their lead thanks to the offensive contributions of Gibbs, Harvey and Pflueger, the rebounding of Geben and the overall energy of graduate student forward Austin Torres. The Irish finished a season-high 20 assists, and Brey commented on the productive flow and tempo with which the team played, and how those characteristics might become real identity pieces without Colson.
“When you have a player of that caliber, a lot of times when the ball goes to him, the other guys will watch and not move as much,” Brey said. “I think what we got tonight was what we really emphasized: move, move, don’t hold it, move, and I thought our movement was really, really good. That happens sometimes when such a gifted guy leaves the lineup.
”… I liked how we were running and moving. It was the best start we got out to in this building in a while. The floor is spread when D.J. is the second big and we’re downshifted, it really gave us some driving areas, and when we get our hands on it we can run. We really caused matchup problems. I loved how we ran — we want to get down the floor.”
The victory didn’t just mean the Irish improved to 2-0 in ACC play and showed signs of promise without Bonzie Colson, but also made Brey the winningest head coach in program history, passing Digger Phelps’ previous record of 393. After a commemorative banner was unfurled as part of a larger postgame ceremony, the Irish head coach spoke postgame about what the experience meant to him.
“The banner was awesome, and having Digger out there was important,” Brey said. “He’s been really good to me, and we know what he’s done for this program. So you’re honored, a little humbled that you’ve been here 18 years, and that you can last long enough to be the all-time winner.”
Next, the Irish will hit the road for the first time in ACC play when the team travels to take on Syracuse on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.