Mike Brey should have lived thousands of years BC when the wheel was invented.
He’s reinvented it enough at Notre Dame over the last decade to have the patent unequivocally approved.
Brey came up with yet another blueprint Wednesday night in McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta where an undermanned Fighting Irish squad – now 16-2, 4-1 and still justifying its No. 12 ranking after a home loss to Virginia – took on an angry, badly-in-need-of-a-victory Georgia Tech team and stole, no, yanked a 62-59 victory away the Yellow Jackets (9-7, 0-4).
Working without 6-foot-10 junior Zach Auguste, Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer (14.3) and rebounder (6.4) who remained in South Bend to tend to an academic issue, Brey first pushed the button marked Martin Geben, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound freshman.
That button hasn’t worked all season and it didn’t work again Wednesday night.
Then he put a forefinger on the button marked Austin Torres, an improving 6-foot-7, 230-pound red-shirt freshman who played a huge role in Notre Dame’s December home victory over Michigan State. Torres held his own, but offered little on the offensive end.
It was time for 6-foot-5, 226-pound Bonzie Colson, a seldom-used freshman who was still learning good practice habits when the 2014-15 season commenced. Brey said as recently as last week that Colson’s attitude had remained positive during his extended pine time, and that minutes just around the corner.
The Irish turned that corner Wednesday night sans Auguste. Colson logged 22 extremely effective minutes, exchanging body blows with 6-foot-8, 269-pound Charles Mitchell and 6-foot-8, 276-pound Demarco Cox, a pair of heavyweights who nearly threw the knockout punch against the Irish 11 days earlier in a double-overtime Irish victory in Purcell Pavilion.
At one point, Colson took an elbow to the nose from Cox, requiring sideline medical treatment. As impressive as Colson’s line-score was after remaining fixed to the bench the previous three games – 22 minutes, 3-of-4 shooting, 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, four rebounds, four fouls and 10 points – his physical presence spoke much louder than the numbers on the page.
“He catches an elbow in the face and he’s bleeding,” Brey recounted. “He energized the rest of our group with how he played and taking that (elbow) to the face.”
Colson rewarded Brey’s faith by playing a significant role in Notre Dame’s second road win in as many tries, which doubled last year’s winning scores away from Purcell.
It wasn’t just Colson. Sophomore V.J. Beachem showed once again that the pretty-looking jump shot he possesses translates on the road as well, converting 3-of-5 three-pointers and providing 10 much-needed points on a night when scoring was at a premium.
Sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson was as steady as fifth-year senior backcourt mate Jerian Grant was wobbly. Jackson scored nine points on just 3-of-9 shooting, but snagged eight rebounds (including three of Notre Dame’s six offensive boards), made both of his free-throw attempts, and dished out five assists with a steal, a blocked shot and just one turnover in 38 minutes.
Ultimately, the Irish probably wouldn’t have won without Grant’s pull-back jumper with 19.6 seconds remaining to give the Irish a three-point lead. He also dished out six assists and scored a team-high 12 points. In between, however, he was skittish and inconsistent, turning the basketball over five times on a night the rest of the team combined for four.
Senior captain Pat Connaughton was hounded, too, missing 6-of-8 shots and failing to grab a single offensive rebound. But Connaughton nailed all five of his free-throw attempts, and when it came to ring-leading the defensive effort, he was at the forefront with Colson, Grant, Jackson and Vasturia.
Talk about reinventing the wheel! Brey has never been confused with the defensive-first coaches in the game. A vast majority of his 15-year reign at Notre Dame, his best defense has been his offense.
After allowing the Yellow Jackets to convert 15-of-28 shots in the first half, they made a paltry six field goals on 23 attempts in the second half. Georgia Tech’s leading scorer – Marcus Georges-Hunt, who scored 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting against Notre Dame on Jan. 3 – missed all six of his field-goal attempts.
There was only one way the Irish were going to win this game, and that was to make Georgia Tech earn every single one of its 21 second-half points while the Irish out-scored the Yellow Jackets by 11 over the final 20 minutes.
“I guess we could have had an excuse not to get (a win) tonight with Auguste back in South Bend handling an academic matter,” Brey said. “I’m really proud of our group. We defended in the second half better. We got into an offensive rhythm. We got some stuff in transition because we got some stops.”
At the forefront was a new button to push, a new-and-improved wheel if you will.
“I’m thrilled with what we found in Bonzie Colson,” Brey said. “He’s been on my mind, he’s been practicing well, and then talk about answering the call and delivering. As excited as I am about the win, I’m excited to have another guy in our rotation that we can now count on.”
Just when the Irish had every reason to lose and fall back among the rest of the middle-of-the-pack teams in the ACC, a freshman led the way.
“He’s unafraid,” said Brey of Colson. “You know what he did? He gave us life. He played great post defense.
“He catches an elbow in the face and he’s bleeding, and four veteran guys looked around and said, ‘You know what? This young guy’s laying his body on the line and his face on the line. We better get going.’ He energized the rest of our group.”
The news of Auguste’s limbo status is the cold slap of reality in the aftermath of the much-needed victory, which kept the Irish solidly in third place in the ACC, one loss behind undefeated Virginia and Syracuse.
Brey did not provide specifics about Auguste, partly because he wanted to talk about the win and partly because he probably didn’t have a concrete answer Wednesday night.
It doesn’t sound like Auguste will be lost for the year, but it sounds like he has some fairly significant cleanup work to remain eligible. It’s a topic that Brey will address further Thursday morning when he meets with the media.
In the meantime, the Irish remain one of the feel-good stories of the 2014-15 ACC season. Wednesday night, it was done with defense and toughness -- and a little bit of offense when it was needed most -- in yet another reinvention of the wheel by Brey.
Patent no longer pending.