A TALE OF TWO HALVES
Out the outset, it was Auguste – and only Auguste. Zach Auguste against North Carolina.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” said the Irish senior captain. “I knew it was a great challenge for me, playing against two of the best big (men) in the ACC, Brice (Johnson) and Kennedy (Meeks), so I took that challenge and I wanted to be aggressive from the jump.
“I love to battle. I love hearing the talk about how good other bigs are and I want them to talk about me like that as well,” he added. “But in the end, it was a great team win.”
At the first half’s five-minute mark, Auguste had scored 13 of Notre Dame’s first 22 points (while assisting on another bucket) and his impact reached beyond that. That is: the otherwise too-tight, overwhelmed Irish would have been run out of their building before the third TV timeout if not for the Auguste’s efforts.
“I had to be that leader,” Auguste said of his unintentional solo mission early. “When (teammates) shots aren’t falling, I know they’re going to fall eventually, but I wanted to be there to hit the glass and pick us up.”
After registering 13 points and 7 boards in the first half, Auguste managed just two and three, respectively, in the second stanza. Enter Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia.
Though Notre Dame’s big-game tandem combined for just eight points on 10 shots in the opening 20 minutes the pair finished Saturday night a combined 11 of 23 from the field with 32 points, 14 boards, 4 steals and 4 assists.
“We didn’t have much flow offensively,” said Vasturia of the first half. “Zach did a nice job of keeping us in the game. We really weren’t playing like ourselves offensively. We started getting to the hole, driving it, and that opened up other (options offensively).”
Notre Dame trailed 37-22 with 3:28 in the first half and by 11, 43-32 early in the second. After tying the score at 48 with 12:23 to play the Irish never trailed by more than three points for the duration, leading for the final 7:24.
Twenty offensive rebounds (20?!) and a 23-13 advantage in second-chance points. A 19-0 edge in points scored off turnovers. More points in the paint (34 vs. 30) than one of the best paint-producing teams in the nation.
Notre Dame bested North Carolina in each category and the Irish committed just two (2!) turnovers in the process over 40 competitive minutes.
And oh yeah, they connected on but a trio of three-point baskets in 16 attempts.
Who are you and what have you done with the Fighting Irish?
“We’re driving the ball more. We’re pounding with Bonzie and Zach at times,” said Brey. “I want our shooters to be ready to rise up and take them because we’ve got some shooters that shoot a high percentage. But we’re getting to the foul line. We don’t need to take (three-pointers) as much.”
No, but Notre Dame ranks 15th nationally among major conference teams and third in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage, hitting 38.1 percent. So while chucking is no longer part of the mo., “making” three-point shots certainly is.
Saturday night, because they took pride in the dirty work, it didn’t have to be.
Just 16 of Notre Dame’s 66 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. And aside from those 16, Brey’s Irish connected on just 20 of 50 attempts (40 percent) but drew a whopping 27 fouls, earning a three-year conference best 38 free throws as a result. The Irish made 31 including a 26-for-27 team effort outside of Auguste’s sobering 5-for-11 performance from the stripe.
WHO’DA THUNK IT?
Notre Dame and North Carolina played 22 times prior to January 2015 – the Tar Heels prevailed in 18 of them. Since Mike Brey’s Irish have won three straight with road, home, and neutral site wins (ACC Championship) included therein.
Add to that four wins against Duke over five meetings in the last 13 months – and mind you, the Notre Dame basketball program had beaten Duke just twice in 21 meetings previously – and Brey’s Irish are a remarkable 6-1 vs. the sport’s blue bloods since early January last year.
In summation, Notre Dame basketball – the 8th winning-est program in the sport – had been a combined 6 up and 39 down vs. North Carolina and Duke in its history, then won six of seven in just over a year.
How on earth?
“Our program, when we have been on the big stage and under the bright lights, has flat out delivered,” said Brey. “I’m really proud of our program and I’m proud of this group. We have played in some big ones and we have found a way to win.”
Brey was likewise well aware of his team’s successes against the Tobacco Road heavies. Told he’d won a combined “6 of 7” vs. the two legendary programs, Brey added, “I think we’re better than that (it’s 7 of 8 dating back to the 2014 season, Notre Dame’s first in the ACC that included a win over Duke but not much else.)
“We’re on a pretty good run against them, and that is extremely powerful. To be (new to) this league, finding an identity in this league, (it’s) extremely powerful.
“You’re always excited to play those programs, for obvious reasons, but we’ve earned every one of them. And I think we’ve been tough in all of them.”
Toughness is indeed the new staple of Irish basketball, at least over the last 14-15 months. Notre Dame has won its last 12 games following defeat dating back to the beginning of last year’s 32-6 campaign.
A week that includes a road game Monday at likewise 7-4 Clemson and another sold out Saturday tussle in South Bend vs. No. 19 (and rising) Louisville, awaits.