IN THE ZONE
With the Irish trailing by eight on Dec. 2 at Illinois, Mike Brey turned to a zone defense to limit the Illini to 35 percent shooting in the second half as Notre Dame scored 51 points after the intermission in an 84-79 victory.
Notre Dame’s backs weren’t pinned to the wall Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion like they were 11 days earlier. But with a slimmer-than-expected 40-34 halftime lead over Loyola (Chicago), Brey went back to his defensive bread-and-butter, built a 25-point lead and cruised to an 81-61 victory over the Ramblers.
Loyola, which had just two turnovers in the first half, coughed it up five times in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half and the Irish were up by 21 at the 8:07 mark.
“Our zone really helped us again in the second half against a team that was hard to deal with with their guards spreading you out, driving and kicking,” Brey said. “They were hard to deal with in man-to-man. But the zone kind of changed the complexion.”
After the Ramblers cut it to 40-38 with 18:23 remaining, Notre Dame turned to its zone following a Steve Vasturia three-pointer. Demetrius Jackson’s layup was ruled a goaltending to make it 45-38. That’s when Brey went to a 1-2-2 press and Bonzie Colson battled for a put-back to make it 47-38. When the lead reached 50-38, Loyola head coach Porter Moser was whistled for a technical foul.
“I thought we came out of the locker room at halftime really well,” Moser said. “We cut it to two. Then they made a run and it went from two to 14 before you could even blink.”
The combination of Notre Dame’s length in the zone plus the quickness of Jackson gives the Irish the best of both worlds in Brey’s 2-3 zone.
“It’s something that we’ve worked on and emphasized a lot,” said 6-foot-10 Zach Auguste, who plays the middle of the back row of the Irish zone. “Our length is tough on people with me, V.J. (Beachem) and Bonzie on the back line. We have great rotation and great spacing, and we force people to take bad shots.”
Loyola shot 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) in the second half, converting just 6-of-15 from two-point range.
COLSON FINDING HIS GROOVE
One of the concerns coming out of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend was finding the proper offensive flow with big men Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson in the lineup together.
Early last week, Auguste had 23 points and 11 rebounds while Colson added 10 points and nine rebounds. Colson hit the ground running against Loyola with 11 first-half points before finishing with 14 in the scoring column to go with seven rebounds.
Auguste was less effective, struggling in some double teams against the Ramblers, which prompted Brey to play the two big men separately, particularly against an undersized Loyola team.
“Playing around the bucket, he drove it early and he got fouled,” said Brey listing Colson’s positive contributions, including 5-of-5 from the free-throw line in the first half.
“When you take Zach out and you put Matt Ryan in, (Colson) gets very effective when we’re playing him like we played him last year. When (he’s) the lone big, we’ve got four guys that can really stretch the floor.”
Colson already was 4-of-4 from the line less than four minutes into the game. His two baskets within 42 seconds of one another late in the first half sparked an 8-0 run after the Ramblers had tied it at 25.
“Just knowing when to space, knowing when to screen, which is really important in our game,” said Colson of finding his groove “Doing the little things and going to the basket. I’m starting to screen away from the ball well. If I screen great for Steve or V.J., that’s going to get me open as well.”
RYAN FINDS HIS TOUCH
Finding a niche as a freshman shooter on a fairly veteran basketball team is a challenge for dozens of freshmen across the country as they transition their games from the prep to college level.
Six-foot-eight, 217-pound freshman forward/shooter Matt Ryan is starting to find his way.
For the second time in five games, Ryan set a career high in scoring, tallying 11 points on 2-of-4 shooting from three-point range against Iowa over Thanksgiving weekend, and then netting a career-high 14 Sunday against Loyola on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
“Last game (vs. Stony Brook), I had a couple open looks and I didn’t shoot,” Ryan said. “I was a little mad at myself for that because I can help the team by shooting. So the last couple practices, I’ve been very aggressive. I just wanted to carry that into today.”
Ryan nailed the first of four three-pointers at the 14:22 mark of the first half. His back-to-back threes in less than a minute midway through the second half turned a 12-point game into an 18-pointer, effectively putting an end to the Ramblers’ upset bid.
“He’s just a weapon that we will have to play,” Brey said. “He may end up playing more and more because his shot is an amazing weapon.
“He’s not a liability defensively because he’s got good size, he throws his body around, and he’s a physical kid. We have to keep grooming him. He’s got to be on the floor because he’s a key.”