BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Perhaps it wasn’t the 24-point, 15-rebound performance that could have been expected against Michigan’s lacking front line.
But when the Irish needed a stabilizing force as the world crumbled around the them in the first half against Michigan, 6-foot-10 junior Zach Auguste provided the foothold, scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds en route to his 20th double-double of the season in Friday’s 70-63 victory over the Wolverines.
Notre Dame advanced to the Round of 32 – the only one of four No. 6 seeds to do so -- Sunday afternoon against No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin.
“We played great basketball,” said Auguste, referring to Notre Dame’s 41-22 scoring advantage over Michigan in the second half. “We played very unselfish. Guys were making the extra pass and we knocked down big shots.”
The Irish were less reliant on their double-double machine against Michigan because of the Wolverines’ guard-heavy attack. Auguste’s 27 minutes of action was less than his time on the court in 22 of Notre Dame’s first 32 games.
But sophomore bruiser Bonzie Colson formed a nice one-two big-man punch – separately – by scoring eight of his 12 points in the second half while grabbing five rebounds, converting 4-of-5 shots and nailing all four of his free-throw attempts.
Auguste finished with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with 12 rebounds.
“Steve (Vasturia), Meech, V.J., Bonz…they all did what they had to do,” Auguste said. “They executed in the clutch. We’ve got to give Michigan a lot of credit. They played great defense, but we came out on top.”
FARRELL’S TIME ARRIVES
Seventy-one games into his career at Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Matt Farrell was tabbed to make his first start in an Irish uniform.
Regardless how well Farrell, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder from Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., matched up against Michigan’s guard-oriented team, his presence in the starting lineup was startling.
He didn’t play in eight of Notre Dame’s first 32 games of the season and saw less than 10 minutes of action in 10 of the 24 games in which he did participate.
Yet Mike Brey turned to Farrell in the final regular-season game against N.C. State when Notre Dame’s stagnant offense needed a bit more tempo to complement the speedy game of Demetrius Jackson. He remained on Brey’s radar heading into post-season.
Farrell played 22 minutes against Michigan – the second most of his career (23 minutes vs. Illinois on Dec. 2) – scoring five points and handing out four assists to help compensate for three turnovers. His three-pointer less than two minutes into the second half helped spark an 8-0 Irish run.
Farrell overcame a twisted ankle and then leg cramps as a result of the injury to remain in the mix throughout the game.
“When I heard it, I was super excited,” said Farrell of his first career start. “I had to be focused right away.
“The (lack of) minutes all year, I don’t really worry about that. You’ve just got to keep the right attitude. My teammates have been awesome about it. Coach (Brey) has been awesome about it. When I found out, I didn’t get too high or too low. I just wanted to play my game like I always do and just try to help our team win.”
The matchup made sense, if not the timing.
“He gives us another ball handler on the floor,” Brey said. “It helps Demetrius. (Farrell) had four assists. He made some plays. I thought he was really good defensively.
“He helped us win a bunch of games early, and then we got away from him and we were winning. I give him a lot of credit because he kept a great attitude. It’s hard playing early and then not playing. Then we throw him in there to start and he really delivered.”
Farrell would seem to be a good fit against Stephen F. Austin, which offers full-court pressure on a regular basis and leads the nation in turnovers forced at 18.6 per game.
“Fast team, guard oriented,” said Farrell of the Lumberjacks. “They’re pressing a lot. We have to take better care of the ball. We’ve got to use ball fakes better.
“I just want to keep playing my game and do whatever I can to help this team, whether that’s starting or coming off the bench. I’m going to do whatever I can, keep shooting my shots and try to get my teammates involved.”
QUICK START ALERT
Since the start of the ACC schedule, Notre Dame has been losing at halftime in 14 of 21 games. Yet during that 21-game stretch, the Irish have won 13 and lost eight.
Fast starts remain at the forefront of Notre Dame’s priority list.
“We’re not always going to be able to dig out of that hole, so we have to limit those opportunities where we dig ourselves too deep a hole,” Auguste said. “We have to see what we’ve done wrong, take it as a learning experience and get better.”
Jackson and Vasturia believe getting the first win in the NCAA tournament should ease some of the burden.
“The first one is always the hardest,” Jackson said. “We’ve got the jitters out, so now we can come out and just play. We have to be better with the ball, go downhill, knock in some more shots and get off to a better start.”
For Vasturia, getting a half of NCAA tournament basketball game in the books was all he needed. He came out like a ball of fire in the second half against Michigan.
“Once you get that first game under your belt, it’s a great feeling,” Vasturia said. “We’re a really confident team. Once we got this win – we know we’re going to have a tough match-up Sunday – we’re excited because it’s definitely a springboard for us.”
UNDER ARMOUR AND UNDERWOOD
Mike Brey is familiar with Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood because of both schools’ affiliation with equipment/apparel supplier Under Armour.
“I know Coach Underwood,” Brey said. “We’re both Under Armour guys, so we spent time together at a couple of Under Armour events. He was trying to get (Notre Dame) to play (them), and I said, ‘No way.’ But now I’ve got to play him no matter what.”
Underwood and the Lumberjacks know one thing real well – winning. Located in Nacogdoches, Texas and a member of the Southland Conference, Underwood has an 89-13 record at Stephen F. Austin with the Lumberjacks’ win over West Virginia.
The Lumberjacks are 53-1 in conference play the last three years, including a perfect 18-0 mark this season.
It also should be noted that the Southland is not dotted with college basketball powerhouses. Conference foes include McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Central Arkansas, Abilene Christian, New Orleans, Sam Houston State, Lamar, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Houston Baptist, Northwestern State, Nicholls and Incarnate Word.
“All I know is West Virginia had 22 turnovers and we’ve been hitting the concession stand (with passes) the last two weeks,” Brey said. “So we’d better be great with the ball.
“They’re a tough bunch. I was impressed with them. This is an ACC game. Tonight was an ACC game. We’ve got another ACC level game on Sunday.”