O'Malley's Key Three

A sophomore, a freshman, and a team effort down the stretch close out the Cardinals in Louisville.

One more home game, then he's free.

As noted in our previous post-game review (explained here), Jackson has maintained a hot hand in both road and neutral settings this season while struggling to find the range during the 2015 calendar year in South Bend.

That now-welcomed trend continued Wednesday night in Louisville, with Jackson knocking down 6 of 11 shots and all seven of his free throw attempts en route to a team-high 21 points and game-high four steals.

"Our guards have been there all year and tonight they were fabulous," said Brey of Jackson and Grant who combined for 33 points, 10 assist, 6 rebounds, and 6 steals. "They were really good. When you have good guards you have a shot to have fun in March."

Jackson's away-from-home persona requires no immediate explanation -- the Irish play just one more home game and have wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the forthcoming ACC Tournament. After Saturday's Senior Day battle against Clemson, Jackson and his Irish mates will play only neutral site contests -- somewhere between two and eight, pending their respective success rates.

Notre Dame has won nine of 12 contests played outside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion this season.

"We talked about how we're 1-0 in March and that's something that's extremely important," said Grant. "We want to win as many games as we can in March. We're playing with confidence going into Saturday, the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament."

Grant will be Grant during March -- an All-American. The straw that stirs the drink.

It's his backcourt running mate Jackson that will be instrumental in Notre Dame's efforts to make it through the first weekend of the tournament -- the one that matters most -- for the first time since 2003.

Why is the 9:09 mark of Wednesday's second half significant?

It's the last time Notre Dame missed a field goal inside the KFC YUM! Center. The squad's remarkable 7-for-7 finish from the field came on the heels of a nine-minute and twenty-five second drought to begin the second stanza -- one that resulted in just four free throws and an 0-8 effort from the field for Brey's Irish.

The end result was the erasure of Notre Dame's 42-31 halftime advantage by an 11-0 Louisville run and eventual 47-46 Cardinals lead. Notre Dame responded by scoring 15 of the game's next 20 points, connecting on 9 of 10 field goals including seven straight to close the contest.

"Everybody just went for it," said Jackson of his squad's closeout of the Cardinals. "Guys stepped up, made big plays. Steve (Vasturia) stepped up making good shots. Bonzie (Colson) was like a tight end catching those long balls. Guys did a great job and Zach Auguste did a really good job guarding one of the best big men in the country."

Of note: The Irish defensively surrendered 10 offensive rebounds -- but none of those two handfuls occurred during a nine-minute stretch in which they out-scrapped and outscored Louisville 17-11 to extend from a 48-47 lead to an insurmountable 67-58 advantage with just over a minute to play.

At first, he was a curiosity. A post player off Brey's bench with bite. (Stop the presses!)

Thereafter, he joined the club. Notre Dame's trusted sextet added a seventh member to its rotation.

Since? Bonzie Colson has evolved from reliable, to necessary, to instrumental.

He's Notre Dame's sixth starter, and to be clear, he's playing better than the de facto fifth.

"He's huge. He brings that energy off the bench, and he's fearless," said Grant of the true freshman. "He has a lot of confidence and that's what we need from guys off the bench."

A shade over (or perhaps under) six-feet-four, Colson augmented leading scorer Demetrius Jackson's efforts with a career-high 17 points in a career-high 26 minutes Wednesday night. He didn't miss a shot in seven attempts and added a career-best 9 rebounds, plus a block and an assist.

And a smile for the hostile Cardinals crowd, to boot.

"I didn't say anything, I just looked at them," Colson corrected post-game when asked about words he had for the Louisville student section. "I feed off their energy as well. The crowd gets me pumped and I play harder. We love it. We love wining on the road and we've been doing it the whole year. It's a great feeling for us to come in here and get this great team win."

The Irish won their program record seventh league road game in nine chances due in large part to Colson's efforts. If Jackson was MVP 1A, Colson was 1B.

"He’s probably like my height, six-foot-three," said Jackson, who's listed at six-foot-one because listings apparently aren't verified in college basketball. "So for him to do what he did tonight (nine rebounds) and do what he’s done most of the year, rebounding against bigger guys, giving great effort, great chest on defense. That’s really huge going forward."

Going forward, it's clear Colson is the team's most trusted post presence -- on both ends of the floor. Starter Zach Auguste has played great (Duke in South Bend) and no-showed (Duke in Durham), with a little bit of everything in between. Conversely, over the last three games, Colson has starred, connecting on an absurd 19 of 24 field goal attempts while collecting 20 rebounds and six combined blocks and steals in a 59 total minutes.

In short, Auguste's inconsistencies are assuaged by Colson's penchant for production.

"The only time I take him out is he's fatigued a little bit, he plays so hard," said Brey. "It's a beautiful story, it's a kid that was really confident (opening camp). He's been able to deliver like this because his attitude was so good the first half of the season when he wasn't playing. He wasn't whining, he wasn't' complaining. He cheered for (Austin) Torres and Zach Auguste more than anybody. So then when you call on him -- (he's) pure, (his) mind is clear, and (he) can deliver. He's energized the rest of our players. Our guys love having him in there."

For Colson, it's all part of the process.

"Whatever it takes us to win the game, whether that's diving on the floor for loose balls, or if it's fouling hard, anything I can do to help the team win," said Colson. "When I wasn't playing, that just gave me more motivation to keep playing hard and put more hours in the gym. I just had to stay positive. My teammates had my back throughout that time period. Keep working hard and stay positive. It's a blessing to go out there and help my team win.

"We just have to keep going."

That's the goal, and if finally seems possible.

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