EIGHT IS ENOUGH
Notre Dame’s three-man bench – and here’s a harsh reality for those of you that will tune in when the calendar flips post-football season: it’s not reaching four – provided 37 minutes of relief Tuesday night. That’s the upside.
The downside, of course, is that the developing tri of Matt Farrell (20 minutes), Matt Ryan (12), and Austin Torres (5) combined to waste minimal printer ink on the post-game stat sheet: 10 shots, 7 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal.
Lost in the dearth of statistical production is the reality that Notre Dame’s starting five not only offered the starters respite, but head coach Mike Brey the ability to mix and match size, skill, and style.
As a result, the Irish eventually pulled away for a 25-point win in what was a five-point game with less than 15 minutes remaining.
“I thought Torres gave us great minutes,” said Brey. “Those were energy minutes. Come in, do some stuff. I have a lot of respect for him. He's not playing 20 minutes. He does what he's supposed to do. Matt Farrell gives us another off the dribble guy. When he's in there with Steve (Vasturia) and Demetrius, we have three guys that can kind of break you down a little bit.
“Matt Ryan, we want to keep developing those three guys. Right now they're the guys. But it's a long haul.”
They’re likely to be the guys in January, February, and March, too, and though they won’t compare to the lift Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem provided for Notre Dame’s all-star starting five last season, they do allow Brey to play big, small, both, and combinations therein.
In other words, the team’s shortest player, Farrell, can sub in for its power forward, Colson, and the Irish five on the floor adapt and adjust with aplomb. It’s a three-man bench – and Torres is the definition of “role player” – but positional versatility among Notre Dame’s starting five (Auguste, Colson, Beachem and Jackson easily swing between two positions; Vasturia among three) means that for Brey, eight is enough.
Not that he has another choice.
November broke bad for Notre Dame’s senior big man as two missed free throws in the final minute cost Zach Auguste and the Irish a win against underwhelming Alabama in Orlando. But the calendar year’s final month is off to a smashing start.
First Auguste helped secure victory in Champaign, posting 16 points, 14 boards, and 4 assists in a 84-79 win over Illinois. Then last night he flashed the competitive side of his alter-ego – the side that helped buoy the Irish to a 6-1 tournament run in March.
Tasked with taking on ultra-productive Stony Brook power forward Jameel Warner, Auguste attacked from the outset, outplaying the 6’8” 260-pound rebounding machine to the tune of 23 points (on 9 of 13) and 11 rebounds vs. 16 points (on 17 shots) and 8 boards by Warner.
“I wasn’t aware of him until a couple days before playing him, but I looked up his stat line,” said Auguste of Warner’s remarkable 26 points, 15 rebounds, and nine blocked shots in a win over Princeton. “I was like, ‘Okay, he fills it up pretty well.’ I went into the film room, followed his tendencies, and it was a challenge I was accepting and ready for.”
August has recorded a double-double in five of his last six games including three straight. He now has 11 such outings in his career, six occurring this season.
ODDS AND ENDS
-- Demetrius Jackson is in a major groove, and the elevation on his jumper is second-to-none nationwide…
-- Notre Dame reached 24 points with a combined six layups/dunks, a pair of three-point shots, and three mid-range jump shots (six assists intermixed) – that’ the type of offense that can keep most defenses, save for perhaps Virginia’s, off balance during league play…
-- Auguste appears much more patient in the post this season, but much of his hay of late has been made against defenders shorter than he. It’ll be interesting to see how the senior fares vs. wide-bodies such as Charles Mitchell (Ga. Tech) and Devin Thomas (Wake Forest). The Irish won’t lose to either the Yellow Jackets or Demon Deacons if Auguste continues to handle his business inside…
-- When the offense bogs down, it’s often because the team’s best player Jackson falls in love with his own ability to handle the rock. One man dribbling most often equates to four standing…
-- V.J. Beachem is a much-improved weak side defensive rebounder – and he’s going to have to be. His back-to-back three-pointers from the right corner blew open a competitive game last night…
-- Never thought I’d type this, but at times, Auguste looks like the most confident player on the court.