NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame broke out their all gold uniforms Monday night.
The Irish needed something with a shine to it after Saturday’s second-half clunker against Indiana.
After a sluggish start against Youngstown State’s zone defense – and ultimately an equally unimpressive finish as the Penguins (5-8) pressed with their starters against Notre Dame’s bench players – the Irish (8-3) accomplished what they set out to do with an 87-78 victory over the Horizon League visitors.
“It was kind of good that we had to play against a 2-3 zone because we struggled against it in Indianapolis,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
Two days after allowing a 16-point second-half lead devolve into a 80-73 loss to the Hoosiers, the Irish shot a sizzling 58.6 percent in the first half and went on a 14-3 run to start the second half while building a 24-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
The bulk of the quality shooting came from point-blank range as the Irish missed 18-of-24 three-point attempts, but compensated by scoring 48 points in the paint and shooting 53.3 percent for the game.
Notre Dame’s lead would dwindle to eight before the Penguins ran out of time.
“We’ve always done a great job whenever we’ve taken a loss to bounce back,” said junior Demetrius Jackson, who finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
“We’ll take that win. We’ve got to finish stronger and play a complete game, but we did a lot of good things and continue to grow and get better.”
Three other players scored in double figures for the Irish. Zach Auguste recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds, including 10-of-12 from the free-throw line.
V.J. Beachem also tossed in 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range while Bonzie Colson remained hot with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“Just to come back and get a win was important,” said Beachem, who connected on four three-pointers for the sixth time this season.
“It was kind of sloppy at the end, but to get a win was good for us and to get a win for Coach Brey was important.”
Brey, whose father passed away over the weekend at the age of 85, wanted to get Jackson and Auguste back in the flow following a tough performance against Indiana a little more than 48 hours earlier.
“I’m really proud of Zach from the foul line,” Brey said. “That’s great progress for him. I actually ran an out of bounds (play) to get him the ball to get fouled because I felt so good about him making free throws.
“Demetrius moved around different spots in the zone, and you know what, I didn’t do as good of a job Saturday helping him with that. So I’ve got to be better getting him to spots where he can help us.”
Brey substituted freely throughout the game, getting additional playing time for freshman Rex Pflueger and junior Austin Torres, who together logged 20 minutes with Torres scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds while Pflueger came up with three steals, a basket and two rebounds.
Steve Vasturia, whose shooting woes continued on just 1-of-7 from the field, finished with eight assists.
The Penguins were the right opponent for the Irish coming off a devastating loss. Youngstown State had early-season losses by 22 (Toledo), 31 (Purdue) and 49 (Michigan) Saturday in a 105-49 loss to the Wolverines.
The Penguins were forced to play without their leading scorer and rebounder – 6-foot-10 senior Bobby Hain – who hobbled off the court after just three minutes of action.
Cameron Morse finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Four other Youngstown State players finished with double-figure scoring, including Sidney Umude, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Shooting better than 50 percent most of the first half, the Penguins pulled to within one (30-29) with 4:16 remaining. But after taking an eight-point lead into the locker room at halftime, the Irish exploded out of the gate to start the second half with a 21-5 run.
Jackson’s 5-of-7 shooting from the field helped him pace the Irish in the first half with 11 points. Jackson’s tip-in with 5.1 seconds left gave Notre Dame its largest lead of the first half.
Brey eventually was forced to put his starters back into the game – twice – as Youngstown State head coach Jerry Slocum stuck with his starters and had them press Pflueger, Torres, Martinas Geben, Austin Burgett and Matt Ferrell.
“They were within a shot,” Brey said. “You’ve got to keep playing and competing. I was intrigued to see what our blue team would do against that and they were struggling tonight.”
Before the press conference was over, Brey paid his respects to his father as well as his team’s outstanding first semester in the classroom.
“As many of you know, my dad was in bad shape and it’s really a blessing,” said Brey, who lost his mother during last season’s NCAA tournament. “I’m kind of excited because in my mind, I picture him and my mom at Christmas together.
“We’re going to go over a 3.0 team gpa,” Brey added with pride. “We’ve had eight guys hit a mark they’ve never hit before. I just couldn’t be prouder of our group. Their habits have been so consistent all semester.”
Notre Dame takes an eight-day Christmas break before its 12th and final non-conference game on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at home against Liberty.