Neither team played quality defense, but make no mistake, Saturday’s 95-91 Notre Dame victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium came courtesy of great offense – by both teams.
After falling behind 8-0 and trailing 50-45 at the break, Notre Dame used an 11-1 run to start second half to gain control of the contest, leading thereafter for all but 17:13 of the remaining 17:42 in the second stanza.
Duke stressed the Irish late, scoring seven straight points and 9 of 11 overall after the visiting Irish took an 86-80 lead on a buzzer-beating three-point shot by freshman Rex Pflueger at the game’s 3:12 mark.
Enter – or better put – reenter game hero Bonzie Colson, whose bucket and ensuing foul shot took back the lead for the Irish, 91-89, with 35 seconds remaining.
In a second half that a combined 12 lead changes or ties, Colson finally provided the edge Notre Dame would never relinquish.
Colson, who did not start the contest, hit 12 of 19 shots from the field including a pair of three-point shots to go with 11 rebounds and a pair of steals. He was aided Saturday by the Irish backcourt as captains Steve Vasturia (22 points) and Demetrius Jackson (24) combined to hit 18 of 32 field goal attempts.
Jackson’s total included a pair of crucial bonus free throws that extended Notre Dame’s lead to 93-89 with 12 seconds remaining. After a put-back dunk by Duke, the junior guard had a chance to seal the contest eight seconds later but missed badly on the front end of the one-and-one.
The resulting odd carom off the bottom of the front of the rim found senior Zach Auguste’s extended right hand – the first bit of good luck bestowed upon the Irish big man who repeatedly missed semi-contested layups at point blank range throughout the afternoon.
A 62.8 percent free throw shooter, Auguste sealed the deal with a pair to provide the game’s final margin. He finished 3 of 12 from the field on the afternoon but collected a game-high 14 rebounds
Head coach Mike Brey’s Irish lost by 30, 90-60, on the same floor last February. Despite that memorable no-show last November, Brey’s bunch has now defeated Duke in four of the last five meetings between the programs including three wins in the last 12 months.
Saturday marks the first victory by Notre Dame’s program in Durham in eight visits dating back to 1973. The average margin of defeat for the Irish in seven previous matchups was a whopping 14 points including two losses by 30 or more.
Duke was led Saturday by the freshmen pair of Luke Kennard and Brandon Ingram. Kennard scored a career-best 30 points including 26 prior to the game’s 14-minute mark. Ingram finished with 25 but was saddled with his fourth foul at the 17:14 mark of the contest. He finished without fouling out, scoring eight points thereafter.
Kennard was slowed in the second stanza by his freshman counterpart Pflueger, a rookie of whom Brey noted could make an impact this season purely because of his defensive prowess.
Pflueger added seven points and two blocked shots plus tipped a 50/50 rebound opportunity away from seven-foot one-inch Duke center Marshall Plumlee to provide the final minute possession that led to Jackson’s crucial free throws.
Sophomore Grayson Allen added 18 points and 6 assists for the hosts. The Blue Devils shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (12-24) and nearly 52 percent from the field overall. The hosts attempted 10 more free throws than the Irish but were outrebounded by Notre Dame 38-33 in defeat.
Brey’s Irish connected on 16 of 20 foul shots, notable in that the charity stripe had been the fatal flaw for Notre Dame in previous losses to Monmouth, Alabama, Indiana, and Pittsburgh where they shot a combined 37 of 62, or 59.6 percent.