SOUTH BEND – Wheeling a portable speaker that taps into one’s phone to play music, Notre Dame junior power forward Bonzie Colson walked onto the Purcell Pavilion court Tuesday to get loose.
Tip-off against Iowa was still more than two hours away, but Colson just couldn’t wait any longer. With rebounding help from a student manager, Colson went to work.
When the bright lights came on and the crowd arrived, he really went to work.
Colson scored 24 points, including 12-of-12 from the free throw line, with a career-high 17 rebounds as Notre Dame improved to 7-0 in a 92-78 victory in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“This was a challenge for us,” Colson said. “We learned a lot about ourselves. It was a good win for us.”
Colson was all over the box score and the floor all night. He nearly had his fourth double-double of the season and eighth of his career in the first half, finishing a rebound shy. He was the emotional centerpiece for the guys in green and also seemed to snatch every ball that didn’t go through the net.
“I just try to get every rebound off the rim and be smart,” Colson said. “Just try to attack every time.”
Iowa really had no answers for No. 35.
“He’s long; he’s versatile,” said coach Fran McCaffery. “He’s relentless on the glass. I’m really impressed with him. I really like his game.”
Colson was so worked up Tuesday that he even yelled at one of his free throws – “Get in there, girl!”
It did. Or she did.
Notre Dame went 30-of-33 (90.9 percent) from the foul line.
After laboring to figure out the Iowa defense a good chunk of the night, the Irish finally got going and flowing. Notre Dame scored 42 points the final 15-plus minutes to turn a tie game at that point into another double-digit win.
Quiet most of the night – he connected on one of four shots the first 30 minutes – senior captain V.J. Beachem came to life when the Irish saw theirs flash before their eyes.
Beachem connected on a pair of 3-pointers from the wing and a fade jumper in the lane for eight points in less than three minutes. That helped an Irish lead that had been as few as six swell to 14 with 5:55 remaining.
Beachem returned out of a timeout to drain another 3 and when Matt Farrell connected on a jumper, the Irish were up 16.
Beachem made four of his final six shots. He was just in one of those funks for so long, until he wasn’t.
“I just tried to stick with it,” Beachem said. “Keep trusting the offense, keep trusting the flow and not force things. Eventually I was able to come around.”
Beachem finished with 16 points. Fellow senior captain Steve Vasturia tied his career high with 22 points and had a career-best nine rebounds. Farrell added 16 points and tied his career high with seven assists in a career-best 38 minutes.
Freshman guard Jordan Bohannon led Iowa (3-4) with 23 points.
Notre Dame trailed by one and led by 17 in the big-swing second half.
“They just kept executing,” McCaffery said of the Irish.
Needing a spark from someone other than Colson, who was a bit too emotional to the point where he picked up a technical foul early in the second half, Notre Dame got it from junior power forward Martinas Geben.
Saddled with early foul trouble, Geben came sprinting in off the bench when coach Mike Brey called his name. He proceeded to grab a defensive rebound on one end after connecting on a point-blank layup on the other. He then dived for a loose ball and call timeout to squelch an Iowa possession and the Irish up eight.
“I just wanted to bring in extra energy,” Geben said. “I saw that we struggled defending the post a little bit and I took it personally. I wanted to make my presence felt down low.”
Geben grabbed a career-high nine reboounds, seven of those in eight second-half minutes.
Up eight following a Vasturia steal and score, Notre Dame made a bid to bust this one open from the free throw line late in the first half. The Irish bumped their lead to 13 with just under six minutes remaining after connecting on nine-straight foul shots. Thrown in there were two from Farrell as a result of a technical foul called on the Iowa bench – really, on McCaffery. The former Irish assistant who spent 11 seasons in South Bend was none too happy with the flurry of whistles and fouls called against his team and let referee Brian Dorsey know it.
The Irish led by as many as 15 in a first half where they turned it over 11 times, three above their season average.
Iowa outscored Notre Dame 18-10 the rest of the first half following McCaffery’s technical.
Iowa kept it a game because Bohannon kept firing in 3s. His fourth and final 3 of the half got the Irish lead under double-digits at nine. And when Peter Jok, who hit for 42 points in Saturday’s loss to Memphis, connected on a corner 3 just before the halftime horn, the Irish lead was down to two (41-39) at intermission.
Jok finished 4-of-20 for 15 points.
The home locker room was not a happy place at the break after allowing 13 unanswered to end the half.
“We,” Irish coach Mike Brey said, “were just a mess.”
Who were those guys? At one point in the second half, the Irish had only five assists and more than twice as many turnovers (11). They were out of synch, even rattled sometimes. At others, they were too pumped to play on their home floor. They needed to settle down, settle in and find a different path to success.
Then they did.
“God, I’m excited about our team,” Brey said. “There’s a great toughness about them. Had to do tough stuff to win.
“We grew some more.”
• NOTRE DAME 92, IOWA 78
IOWA (3-4): Pemsl 8-9 2-3 18, Baer 3-10 1-2 8, Bohannon 7-18 2-2 23, Moss 2-4 0-0 5, Jok 4-20 5-7 15, Kriener 0-1 0-0 0, Uhl 0-2 2-2 2, Wagner 0-2 0-0 0, Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Ellingson 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 27-71 12-16 78.
NOTRE DAME (7-0): Colson 6-14 12-12 24, Beachem 5-10 2-2 16, Geben 1-1 0-2 2, Vasturia 6-12 7-7 22, Farrell 5-12 4-4 16, Torres 1-2 0-0 2, Ryan 0-0 3-3 3, Gibbs 1-2 2-3 4, Pflueger 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 26-55 30-33 92.
Halftime--Notre Dame 41-39. 3-Point Goals--Iowa 12-35 (Bohannon 7-15, Jok 2-11, Moss 1-2, Ellingson 1-2, Baer 1-4, Uhl 0-1), Notre Dame 10-23 (Beachem 4-8, Vasturia 3-5, Farrell 2-6, Pflueger 1-1, Colson 0-3). Fouled Out--Geben. Rebounds--Iowa 28 (Baer 12), Notre Dame 44 (Colson 17). Assists--Iowa 22 (Bohannon 7), Notre Dame 11 (Farrell 7). Total Fouls--Iowa 23, Notre Dame 17. Technicals--Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Pemsl, Colson. A--7,660 (9,149).