NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Steve Vasturia whipped a pass to the cutting V.J. Beachem under the basket that the junior converted through contact. The layup pushed Notre Dame 20 points beyond Stony Brook midway through the second half, a margin big enough that Purcell Pavilion began to empty.
After a 9 p.m. tipoff, the crowd of 7,537 had seen enough.
Mike Brey had not. And he might not for a while.
Ultimately, Notre Dame (6-2) ran away from Stony Brook (4-3) for an 86-61 win that few will remember come March or even two weeks from now when the Irish face Indiana in the Crossroads Classic. Brey won’t be among them. His roster probably won’t either after Notre Dame practiced double sessions Saturday and Sunday to smooth its starting five.
It’s not that Brey doesn’t know his lineup. He just needs it to play as efficiently as it did Tuesday night more often.
“What a great last week for this team as we're trying to figure ourselves out,” Brey said. “To win in Illinois and to come back and methodically beat a good team … nice step forward, we'd like to win three in a row and then go to exams.”
In a rarity, Notre Dame started fast. The Irish also got bigs Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson to play well together. And because that happened from the opening tip – Notre Dame led 24-13 with 12:04 left in the first half – it let Brey work on his bench, which remains an area needing development.
Notre Dame had just two bench points in the first half and finished with 10. At intermission, the Irish starters were +16 when playing together but that margin flipped to minus-eight when any reserve entered the lineup.
Stony Brook put some game pressure on Notre Dame in the second half, pulling within 46-42, but that charge was brief. From there the Irish exploded on a 25-4 run that removed all doubt.
“Usually we start off slow,” Auguste said. “We just locked in, stepped on the gas and stayed efficient, stayed positive and worked on our defense.
“We wanted to step on their throats.”
Notre Dame may be fine relying on its starting five if the Auguste-Colson combination can make Tuesday night a habit. Auguste finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. Colson added 10 points and nine boards. It was the best scoring combination from that pair this season and nearly its best effort on the boards too.
“It’s probably a little bit better every week,” Brey said. “We're never going to look as pretty with those two guys but they do some things on the other end of the floor, like rebounding the ball, where I'm OK with it not being as aesthetically pleasing as maybe the smaller lineup.”
Notre Dame beat Stony Brook on the boards, 43-24.
With Auguste and Colson clicking inside, Demetrius Jackson found room to drive, shooting 7-of-10 from the field for 19 points. V.J. Beachem hit back-to-back threes during that 25-4 run and finished with 14 points. Steve Vasturia added 10.
As much as Brey wants to go to his bench more, he needs his starters functioning like this first.
“There's no question,” Brey said. “Demetrius Jackson, if you're going to run the building, you have to be on the floor to run the building. I need you out there because you have to be able to talk to the refs too. All that stuff. It's all part of it. You're out there the whole time you start to run the building.
“Our key guys are learning to play together.”
They learned a little bit more on Tuesday night. It’s a lesson that might not register outside Purcell Pavilion, but it might stick in the Irish locker room.