Another career night for Bonzie Colson lifted Notre Dame to its second-straight win.
Head coach Mike Brey could sense it from tip-off.
“Right now he’s in an unbelievable groove. I actually turned to (assistant) coach (Rod) Balanis and said, ‘You think he can get 40 tonight?’ I just felt that good about him. He’s getting it in areas where they can’t guard him and he’s sticking the three, he’s making free throws.
“That was one of the great performances in our program’s history against a big-time team on national TV. What a delivery.”
The junior forward scored 33 points, a career-high, and nabbed 13 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season in the win. He also went over 1,000 career points.
Saturday’s 83-80 victory over No. 14 Florida State puts the Irish at 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference entering the final five regular season games.
Brey said his team was “excited” to play against the Seminoles, who defeated the Irish 83-80 in January. Notre Dame played “probably the best we’ve played in league play on both ends of the floor,” according to Brey.
Colson credited his teammates and the team’s high-powered offense with his career scoring day. He did it all offensively, making a 3-pointer, hitting tough shots over the defense and in the lane.
The most memorable play was a tip-in on a fast break, flying over several Florida State defenders.
“Every time that ball goes up I try to attack the ball,” Colson said.
Colson and his teammates — particularly fiery junior point guard Matt Farrell — fed off a sold-out Purcell Pavilion crowd, building a lead as large as 20 points in the second half.
“That’s the Bonzie we need,” Farrell said. “It starts with him. We love when he’s playing energized, playing with that emotion. Tonight he was just absolutely unbelievable.”
Brey said the adjustments Notre Dame has made recently and going to the four-guard lineup have benefitted the New Bedford, Mass. native. Getting Colson perimeter touches has allowed the undersized big man into better spots.
But defense was the key according to Colson. Notre Dame allowed the Seminoles to score 83 points, shoot 50.0 percent and 41.2 percent from 3 in the first matchup.
Saturday, the Seminoles shot 47 percent from the field and made just 3-of-15 3-point attempts. Foul shooting was also a big issue, as FSU made just 7-of-22 attempts.
“That’s what really did it, because once we can defend, rebound and outlet, that’s when we’re special,” Colson said.
Better Job Against Isaac
Notre Dame played improved defense against Florida State star freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, limiting the likely NBA lottery pick to four points and six rebounds.
Isaac dismantled the Irish in the previous matchup with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Saturday, Notre Dame limited him on both ends, holding the 6-foot-10 Isaac to one offensive rebound and one blocked shot.
Brey credited senior wing V.J. Beachem's defense on the big man.
“He couldn’t get many putbacks,” Brey said of Isaac. “When he gets putbacks, he gets himself going. He only had one (offensive rebound). We did a better job keeping him off the board. When he gets putbacks, that jumpstarts him.”
Brey said he’s never seen Steve Vasturia dunk like the senior guard did late against Florida State. Known more for his fundamentals and outside shooting, Vasturia rose up and dunked, much to the enjoyment of his coaches and teammates.
“We call him Air Vasturia now,” Brey said. “New nickname, Air Vasturia.”
It was the first in-game dunk in Vasturia’s career. Brey said Vasturia won’t even dunk in practice, laying it in instead during drills.
Friday was Vasturia’s 22nd birthday, and Colson was glad to see it happen in a game.
“It was huge for him,” Colson said. “I hugged him as soon as it happened because that’s something we talk about all the time in practice, and he did it in a game.”
Irish Go Small: Gibbs Makes First Start
Brey went with his fourth different lineup in four games, inserting freshman guard T.J. Gibbs into the starting five to begin Saturday’s game. It was the first career start for Gibbs, who finished with five points — all on foul shots — two assists and four rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
The 17th-year coach had hinted at the move Thursday, wanting to change up how Notre Dame attacked FSU after an 18-turnover effort Jan. 18.
“We just felt having more perimeter guys, ball-handlers on the floor to open up the floor, we’d have some driving areas,” Brey said. “I thought we had some great drives tonight, some to finish and some to just get in the lane and make a play and distort them.”
Notre Dame’s small lineup was so effective that the Seminoles had to counter with their own smaller rotation.
“Playing small longer and really being married to it has been very good for us,” Brey said. “I’m encouraged because we held our own defensively. But you know what, our small guys are tough dudes. Being big may be overrated. Playing big guys, that may be overrated.”
Notre Dame’s wins over Wake Forest and Florida State have the Irish thinking back to their five-game winning streak to begin ACC play.
“We took some really big punches,” Brey said. “They were going to come and we handled them like men and really bounced back. I am not surprised. This group has been so steady and so solid and together…I’m really not surprised they would find a way to get going again.”
Losses in five of its next six games hurt Notre Dame, dropping it from the Top 25.
“After that losing streak we needed to get back in rhythm on both sides of the floor and we did that,” Colson said. “On offense we’re all in a good rhythm and we’ve got to continue to be hungry and continue to be motivated to get to where we want to be.””
Now, the Irish are in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament, which has almost become routine.
“We are trending to be in (the tournament) again,” Brey said. “I’m always so worried. Our fans, because we’ve been so consistent, just think, ‘We’ll be in it again.’ I sweat like bullets every offseason, ‘Can we get back in? Can we do it again? Can we get back in?’ It would be awesome, and we’re trending that way to be part of this thing again.”