Notre Dame junior Zach Auguste authored the best game of his collegiate career Saturday night, leading the host Irish to an 83-63 victory over Florida State in the first Athletic Coast Conference contest of the season for both.
Auguste scored a career-high 26 points on 11-15 shooting, adding seven rebounds. Of his 26, 10 were courtesy emphatic dunks against a Seminoles squad that boasted a trio of defenders at least seven-feet tall.
"We emphasized being aggressive and rebounding," said Auguste. "A lot of people mentioned that I struggled against Michigan State's size. I wanted to make a statement that I could bang with the bigs."
Auguste's efforts were augmented by sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson who notched a career-high seven rebounds to go with 18 points, four assists and three steals. Jackson concluded multiple dribble drives and open court maneuvers with highlight reel finishes, including a vicious dunk in the face of 6'8" Seminoles forward Paul Cofer to extend Notre Dame's lead to 60-38.
"It's always fun, I love playing with this team. Going out, playing the right way, and sharing the ball," said Jackson of the team's 40-minute efforts. "When they get up and pressure us, me and the other guards just want to make good decisions."
The Irish eventually led 80-52 in what amounted to an offensive clinic by the hosts.
"When we play this team's brand of basketball, the brand we've been working on all summer and all off-season, it's fun," said senior captain Pat Connaughton. "We had fun. The bench has fun when we're playing the way we played, the guys on the court have fun, and when we sub in, we get that much hungrier to have each other's backs.
"When you can do that and you know there's plenty of room for improvement, it can be a great season."
The Irish shot nearly 52 percent (including 10 team dunks and 46 points in the paint) and committed just five turnovers. The backcourt of Jackson and do-everything guard Jerian Grant dominated the proceedings, combining for 36 points (on just 23 shots), with nine assists, 12 rebounds, six steals, and just three turnovers.
"When they (overplay with ball pressure), me and Demetrius take care of the ball," said Grant. "We have a good handle, we can get to the basket, we can shoot. When they get up on us like that, we attack. We have shooters all around us, we have guys that can finish at the rim."
Grant finished with 18 points, five assists, five boards, and three steals, hitting 6 of 11 shots.
"They're assassins," said Brey of his guard tandem. "What they do to people, and how they go after people, they are -- I am so excited about what's developing with those two guys. I certainly put them up against any backcourt in the country, the way they're evolving right now."
"(Auguste's) really good at knowing how to roll off of great perimeter players. And those guys really know how to find him," said Brey of Jackson and Grant.
Bereft of offensive skill and playing without their leading scorer Aaron Thomas (academics suspension), Florida State shot just 39 percent for the game, notching 11 of their 63 points in the final three minutes, long after the outcome had been decided.
"I talked to them about trying to become cruel competitors. Going after people," said Brey. "We talked about that at halftime, could we put them away to start the second half and I'm really proud that we did that."
Notre Dame took control midway through the first half, turning a 19-15 deficit into a 33-21 lead over a four-minute, 43-second span buoyed by a consecutive trio of dunks. A second half run followed thereafter, changing a tenuous 40-34 edge into a commanding 60-38 bulge.
Worried pre-game about the Seminoles team length and inherent rebounding advantage, Brey's group matched the visitors on the backboard, corralling just one fewer rebound (37-36), led by Connaughton's nine.
"The two things we talked about, blocking out and can we rebound the ball?," said Brey. "Not get scorched on the backboard. 12 offensive rebounds you can absorb.
"I am a little pleasantly surprised, I thought there'd be a little more banging away on the backboard. I thought we held their own."
The Seminoles finished with 12 offensive rebounds albeit on 38 missed shots.
Notre Dame, 10-1, has a week off before traveling to Indianapolis to take on Purdue (8-3) in the fourth annual Crossroads Classic.