SOUTH BEND – When the tongue is wagging for all to see, that’s usually a good sign that all is right with junior power forward Bonzie Colson and No. 23 Notre Dame.
It took less than a minute for Colson to let it hang Tuesday at home against upset-minded Fort Wayne.
Colson connected on a 3-pointer to open the scoring, then was all over the floor much of the rest of the way for the Irish, who improved to 9-0 following an 87-72 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
“It’s staying composed and coming to play early,” said Colson, who finished with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double in a row. “As a team, we try to get off to good starts. I feel like we’re doing that really well. Excited what we did tonight.”
Colson even got halfway to a triple-double in the assist category. He handed out five, which tied his career high.
“He’s a special guy,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “He’s just really confident. He’s got a swagger.”
Something that was evident from the opening minute. The bigger the game it seems the bigger Colson plays. The way he started – quickly, confidently – allowed the Irish to settle in and play a brand of ball that helped build an 18-point advantage at the break.
When Colson’s flowing, so does everyone else.
“When he gets going early, not only is it great for him, it’s great for all of us,” senior V.J. Beachem said. “When he hits his first two or three, that’s when we know it’s going to be a big night for him
“Not only scoring, but that gets him involved on the glass too.”
Colson played much of the first half as if he had pounded a six-pack of energy drinks before the game. He was wired. Like when he was hustling down a potential 50-50 ball and jumping out of bounds to try and save it under the Fort Wayne basket late in the first half.
Minutes later, he soared in from somewhere around Granger for an offensive rebound in a possession that ended with a Beachem 3. That bumped the Irish lead to 18 and got the crowd going. And Colson.
Colson ran past the Fort Wayne bench on his way down the floor. Whatever he might have said didn’t sit well with coach Jon Coffman, who voiced his displeasure with the officials.
“Just between Bonzie and I,” Coffman said of the exchange afterward. “Just giving some love chat.”
Colson was just having one of those nights, which ended in familiar fashion – with him getting his sixth-straight double-double for points and rebounds and the Irish winning.
The win gave Notre Dame its best start during Brey’s 17-year tenure and best start since opening 12-0 in 1973-74.
Mo Evans led the Mastodons (7-3) with 25 points, 21 in the second half. Fort Wayne got as close as nine in a second half that saw Notre Dame lead by 27.
Just over 48 hours after playing perhaps the worst team on its schedule – North Carolina A&T, a game it won by a Purcell Pavilion record 54 points – Notre Dame faced perhaps the toughest team on its non-league schedule in Fort Wayne.
The Irish were ready. Really ready.
Still, they learned a little something about themselves when the Mastodons made a second-half run that saw them score 49 points and shred the Irish defense with 57.6 percent shooting from the field, 53.8 percent from 3.
This one wasn’t supposed to get interesting, but it did for a few possessions. The Irish know they’re to blame for not keeping a hammer they had dropped earlier in the half down for the final 10 minutes.
“We’ve got to learn from this and learn not to let up,” said sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. “After they started getting on a roll, it was tough to stop them.
“But we talked it out and got it done.”
Talked it out in timeout huddles during Fort Wayne’s eventual 47-29 burst the same way Notre Dame handled the game pressure applied last month by Northwestern back at Barclays Center. The Irish trailed by six with six minutes to go in that game, but stayed calm, stayed cool and stayed collected long enough and together enough to win a close contest.
Same situation Tuesday. The huddles were all business.
“There’s no panic,” Brey said. “The tone is a little bit of ‘We’re fine.’ We handled our business.
“I thought we were poised, knew we wouldn’t get beat. It was good to have some game pressure on us.”
Notre Dame never trailed.
The first 20 minutes ended on a big note for the home team when freshman John Mooney, usually one of the last off the bench but getting major run Tuesday, rebounded a Matt Farrell missed with a two-hand dunk one second before the halftime horn.
The Irish then returned from the break and put this one basically to bed. They scored the opening seven points of the second half to go up by 25.
Notre Dame was content early to take its collective time and work the ball, and the shot clock early. After going for 23 points the first eight minutes of Sunday’s game where they finished with a season-high 107, the Irish scored just 14 on Tuesday. That was by design.
The Irish grinded on one end, then guarded on the other. That’s something they didn’t do early the previous Tuesday at home against Iowa.
“We played fast,” Brey said. “We hurried. We took some bad shots. I thought we were more methodical offensively the first half.
“The combination of that with our defense gave us great breathing room.”
Fort Wayne wanted to go, go, go and play fast. Notre Dame made the other guys guard for extended stretches while working for a really good shot.
Notre Dame’s efficiency and shot-making would eventually kick in. And it did again.
Six minutes after scoring 14 points, the Irish had added 20 more to the total, fueled by four 3s, for a comfortable double-digit advantage.
Notre Dame’s run of three games in seven days wraps Saturday against top-ranked Villanova in Newark, N.J. The Irish are done playing at home until Dec. 19.
“We want ‘Nova!” the Irish student body chanted in the closing minute.
Notre Dame is going to get the defending national champions.
“It’s just the thing you look forward to, these types of games,” Pflueger said. “It’s going to be strictly business when we get there.”
FORT WAYNE (7-3): Calhoun 1-2 0-0 2, Evans 9-18 3-3 25, Konchar 7-9 3-3 18, Harrell 1-4 0-0 3, Scott 0-10 2-2 2, Talla 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 5-8 0-0 10, King 1-4 0-0 3, Ruise 3-3 0-0 6, Stewart 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 28-61 8-8 72.
NOTRE DAME (9-0): Geben 1-2 1-2 3, Beachem 4-14 4-5 14, Colson 6-11 2-2 17, Farrell 4-10 4-4 12, Vasturia 6-11 8-8 21, Mooney 1-1 0-0 2, Ryan 1-4 0-0 3, Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Pflueger 3-8 0-0 9, Gibbs 2-5 1-2 6. Totals 28-67 20-23 87.
Halftime--Notre Dame 41-23. 3-Point Goals--IPFW 8-23 (Evans 4-10, King 1-1, Konchar 1-1, Stewart 1-2, Harrell 1-4, Talla 0-1, Scott 0-4), Notre Dame 11-35 (Pflueger 3-5, Colson 3-5, Beachem 2-11, Ryan 1-3, Gibbs 1-3, Vasturia 1-4, Farrell 0-4). Fouled Out--Taylor. Rebounds--IPFW 37 (Konchar 9), Notre Dame 35 (Colson 14). Assists--IPFW 11 (Evans 3), Notre Dame 20 (Farrell 6). Total Fouls--IPFW 21, Notre Dame 9. Technicals--IPFW coach Jon Coffman. A--7,204 (9,149).