WASHINGTON – As his remaining days in a Notre Dame uniform dwindle, Zach Auguste won’t play the game he loves for the school he chose out of Marlborough, Mass., with anything other than maximum effort.
That includes the performances of his teammates.
“As a leader, it’s my job to remind them that there are no more second chances now,” Auguste said. “If you lose, you’re done. We’ve been in this position before. It’s about helping the young guys figure it out.”
If they haven’t figured it out by now, all they have to do is keep an eye on the 6-foot-10, 245-pound man possessed that – if not singlehandedly – was the driving force behind Notre Dame’s spectacular 84-79 come-from-behind, overtime victory Thursday night versus Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
“Zach Auguste is playing as good as anybody in the country,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey following Auguste’s 19-point, 22-rebound stat line.
“I love his venom and energy and flying all over the place.”
Auguste, an emotional player from the beginning of his career with the Irish, had difficulty channeling the fury that lies within, as evidenced by the broken hand he suffered during his sophomore year when he punched a basket stanchion…in practice.
Consistency of performance was an issue when he ascended to a semi-starting role on the heels of another vastly-improved big man in the Brey system – Jack Cooley – who led the Irish with 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in 2012-13.
By his junior year in 2014-15, Auguste nearly doubled his scoring output (12.9 ppg.) and began snagging rebounds in droves, including 13 against North Carolina in last year’s ACC tournament and another baker’s dozen in an NCAA tournament victory over Butler.
He finished his junior season averaging 6.5 rebounds per game.
Upon the conclusion of Notre Dame’s run to the Elite Eight, Irish assistant Anthony Solomon offered a challenge to Auguste at the annual season-ending celebration.
Solomon set the bar high for Auguste after his four double-doubles as a junior. The Notre Dame assistant challenged Auguste to average a double-double during his fourth and final season with the Irish.
With his brilliant performance against Duke Thursday night in the Verizon Center, Auguste is now averaging 14.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the season, including 14.6 rebounds per his last five games.
It was Auguste’s 19th double-double of the season, and just as important as the numbers is the emotional leadership he has provided following the loss of consummate leaders Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant.
“With the energy and emotion and the little bit of crazy (stuff) that he plays with, that’s really good because he scares the other team,” said a bemused Brey. “He even scares his teammates into playing hard.”
Auguste was relentless in his efforts to eliminate Duke’s 16-point second half lead. Only six of his 19 points came after halftime, but an incredible 16 rebounds came over the final 20 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime.
His 22 rebounds tied former Wake Forest star and NBA Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan for the second most rebounds in the history of the ACC tournament.
“I wanted to stay aggressive and continue to attack them to get their bigs out of the game,” said Auguste, who contributed to seven-foot center Marshall Plumlee’s early foul trouble, limiting him to two points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
“Big bodies, physical…love to battle in the paint. I took that challenge upon myself. We talked collectively about limiting their second-chance opportunities, and that’s what we did.”
While Notre Dame allowed a stunning 22 offensive rebounds to the Blue Devils, few came during Notre Dame’s 14-0 run that sliced into Duke’s 64-48 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining.
Auguste galloped up and down the court like a guy clinging to every last second of what has quickly become a spectacular final season with the Irish.
“Twenty-two rebounds? Are you kidding me? That’s unbelievable,” Brey said. “He’s in a great rhythm. It’s a testament to our program. We have guys that stick around for four years and they get better.”
While the game seemed out of reach for those witnessing it, Auguste had a different mindset.
“It’s just a matter of resiliency,” Auguste said. “We huddled up, talked about it…It would have been easy for us to put our heads down. We knew what we needed to do, came together and stepped up.”
No one has stepped up bigger for the 2015-16 Fighting Irish than Zach Auguste.