Bonzie Colson put together a pair of 40-second spurts that led directly to 10 Irish points. He also provided 35 minutes of MVP-level basketball in an otherwise sluggish 64-60 Notre Dame victory over Georgia Tech Sunday night.
Colson led all scorers with 20 points adding 11 boards – his league-best 17th double-double of the campaign – but it was Colson’s oft-referenced “Junkyard Dog” moments that buoyed Mike Brey’s bunch to its eleventh win in 16 ACC games.
“He’s playing as well as anyone in the league or the country,” said Brey. “I think he sensed he needed some things from outside today.”
Colson hit each of his three shots from beyond the arc, two of which provided emotional boosts when the Irish had previously stalled.
“You take those three out, I think we did a good job on everyone else,” said Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner. “I probably didn’t emphasize enough his three-point shooting.”
No other Irish player managed double digits until Matt Farrell converted a desperation fadeaway jumper at the 3:40 mark, one that provided a stagnant Irish offense with a 54-48 lead. Senior Steve Vasturia scored on a reverse layup 40 seconds later and the subsequent eight-point edge provided just enough cushion for free throws to secure Notre Dame’s win thereafter.
“He’s been a second-half crunch-time guy,” said Brey of Farrell who was slowed by early foul trouble in the first. “As soon as that (desperation shot) left his hands I figured it was going in. He’s made those all year.”
Farrell finished with 17 in support of Colson, hitting 7-of-8 from the charity stripe late to seal the proceedings.
DOUBLE BYE TERRITORY
Favored by 11 points entering the contest, Notre Dame withstood the visitor’s upset bid despite a 38-16 scoring disadvantage in the paint. The Irish finished with just 10 two-point field goals on 28 attempts.
“I knew we’d have empty offensive possessions against them because they’re just too good defensively,” said Brey, noting that at times, a weeklong layoff can impact offensive rhythm.
“We missed some looks that we usually make but it didn’t affect us getting back on the other end and guarding,” he said.
Fortunately for the Irish, Georgia Tech remained true to form from long range, hitting just 3 of 15 offerings – two by senior guard Tadric Jackson late – the last of which drew the Yellow Jackets to within three, 61-58, with 31 seconds remaining.
“We do not shoot a lot of threes. It’s part of our limitations,” said Pastner of his Yellow Jackets that rank last in the ACC in both three-point percentage (34.8%) and three-point field goals attempted (376), shooting nearly 100 fewer than any other program entering the contest.
The Irish weren’t lighting it up from long range, either, converting on just 10 of 29 such shots as the visitors ever-changing zone and long wingspans robbed Notre Dame of its usual offensive rhythm.
“They are really good defensively. They change it up from zone to man,” said Brey. “They’re physical, and they have good speed, so they’re hard to score against. To keep them to 60 points, that was the key for us. We continually defended even though we did not have good possessions.”
Jackson led the Rambling Wreck with 20 points off the bench, 16 in the second half. The senior guard scored 25 points in 26 minutes in an upset win over Notre Dame last month in Atlanta.
Held to eight points – two of them the game-winning layup as time expired – in the last meeting between the teams, Georgia Tech all-star freshman guard Josh Okogie chipped in with 14 points and 10 boards but scored just three in the second stanza.
Junior center Ben Lammers finished with 12 points, 10 boards and four blocked shots while Josh Heath chipped in a dozen as well.
Now 11-5 in the ACC (22-7 overall) with two regular season games remaining, Notre Dame pulled into a tie for second with both Florida State and Louisville. The trio trails league leader North Carolina (13-3) and with each losing to the Tar Heels already, will battle this week for a second place finish and resulting second seed in the forthcoming ACC Tournament.
Notre Dame hosts Boston College Wednesday before traveling to Louisville for a Saturday afternoon tipoff.