Bonzie Colson’s big night against Wake Forest on Tuesday — 27 points (four off his career high) and 16 rebounds (one off his career high) — was the latest outing in a monster junior season for the Notre Dame forward.
Colson is averaging 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds and has 15 double-doubles, most in the Atlantic Coast Conference and tied for seventh in the country.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Colson helped Notre Dame snap a four-game losing streak.
“When he plays like that, when he plays in his junkyard-mode, god he’s a double-double machine,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said of Colson.
According to online sportsbook Bovada, Colson has the seventh-best odds to win the Associated Press Player of the Year award. Colson is tied with Wisconsin star forward Ethan Happ at 16/1, trailing national favorite Frank Mason of Kansas (5/2).
Colson started 24 games for the Irish last season as Zach Auguste played the primary role in the post. But Colson has taken his game to another level, shouldering the rebounding load as the Irish experiment with different lineups.
Against Wake Forest, Colson was the lone forward in the starting lineup. Over the past five games, Notre Dame’s two most frequent lineups do not include a second forward on the floor. Sophomore guard Rex Pflueger has played with the other four starters 28.5 percent of the time, while freshman guard T.J. Gibbs has logged 17.9 percent of the minutes.
Without a reliable second post option, Colson has been the unquestioned top rebounder all season. After grabbing 6.7 rebounds a game last season as a sophomore, Colson is now the only player in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference in double figure rebounds.
“That’s my role, and I want to be that,” Colson said. “I want to be that guy who goes out there and gives it all and tries to get every rebound. That’s something that me and Coach (Ryan) Humphrey as soon as he got the job, that we have to do this and I’m focused and locked in on every rebound possible.”
Colson’s teammates also praised his rebounding prowess as an undersized forward.
“It’s big on him to rebound the ball for us,” senior wing V.J. Beachem said. “Sometimes he’ll be down there one-on-one in the post. When we have two bigs, sometimes we can dig a little bit because we know we’ll have help on the backside to rebound, but sometimes he’s down there one-on-one just battling his butt off.”
Among Notre Dame regulars, Colson is shooting a team-best 52.5 percent on two-point attempts this year while being guarded by bigger players. He can also step away from the paint — Colson has made 13-of-39 3-point attempts this year, including a 38.5 percent clip in ACC games.
Colson is also fifth in the league in blocks at 1.56 per game. That’s the highest mark for a Notre Dame player since 6-9 forward Jack Cooley averaged 1.6 a game during the 2011-12 season.
Among the top-20 ACC players in blocks per game, Colson is the only player shorter that 6-7. Every other player in the top-10 is 6-9 or taller.
The New Bedford, Mass., native, had a career-high five blocks Tuesday in an 88-81 victory over Wake Forest.
“Everybody goes at him because he’s a 6-5 guy with skinny calves, like, ‘I’m going right over him,’” Brey said of Colson. “Then they forget he’s got a 7-2 wingspan, he gets more tricky blocks, and big guys look back, like, ‘How the hell did he do that?’ It’s the 7-2 wingspan.”
Colson was matched up against Wake Forest 6-10 sophomore forward John Collins, one of the league’s top forwards. Colson does it largely without fouling — he’s averaging just 1.88 fouls per game and has fouled out just once in his career.
“Just trying to do what I can on both ends of the floor,” Colson said of his defensive effort. “Just trying to pick and choose when I do that.”