BUFFALO, N.Y. – When last seen in a basketball setting, Notre Dame junior power forward Bonzie Colson sat with his right leg extended, ankle elevated and an ice bag firmly in place.
When seen Wednesday as the Irish went to five-on-five situations during its 40-minute open practice at KeyBank Center, Colson stood and watched.
Colson suffered a sprained right ankle late in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game against Duke. He’s since been joined at that ankle with trainer Skip Meyer and the medical staff for a steady diet of treatment to prepare for Thursday’s first round NCAA tournament game against Princeton (12:15 p.m., CBS).
“I’m great; I’ll be ready to play,” Colson said early Wednesday afternoon during the team’s media availability session.
Colson participated in the first 20 minutes of the open practice before serving as spectator for almost all of the last 20. With under two minutes left, he led the parade to midcourt for the traditional end-of-practice halfcourt shot.
Colson was the first to make it.
Colson led the Irish in scoring (17.5) and rebounding (10.2) and the ACC in double-doubles (19). He’s coming off a 29-point performance in the league championship. He tweaked the ankle while battling for a long rebound with eight minutes remaining. He left the floor for about a minute before checking back in.
Colson was fitted Sunday with a protective boot for the ankle/foot earlier in the week.
“It feels a lot better,” Colson said of the ankle. “When it happened, I couldn’t really move or walk on it. Now I can walk.”
Pain will not be a factor. Not after having come this far this season.
“I’m going to go out there and play regardless whether it’s hurt or not,” Colson said. “We’ve been doing everything we can to get it ready.
“I’m ready to play.”
Only one Irish has missed a game this season with injury – Rex Pflueger (bruised ribs). Colson won’t be the second.
“He’s such a warrior,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We tape him (Thursday) and give him a couple Advil and he’ll play like the man that he is.”
For as long as Irish guard Rex Pflueger could remember, he had one recurring dream. One day, Pflueger hoped to play a big part in an NCAA Tournament game to the point where one of his plays would be included in the tournament-ending “One Shining Moment” video.
He made good on that last year when he tipped in the winning basket with 1.5 seconds remaining in the second-round game against Stephen F. Austin.
He hopes to do even more for the Irish. Just going through that experience will help Pflueger, now a starter, relax.
He was anything but last March.
“The difference level of my confidence from going into last year’s NCAA tournament to now is definitely completely different,” said Pflueger, averaging 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 21.4 minutes. “Last year, I had butterflies not knowing what to expect.”
Not now. Not after sliding into the starting lineup to stay eight games ago. He plays a game that features a little of everything — opportunistic scoring, determined rebounding and a whole lot of defense.
Notre Dame is 6-2 since Pflueger became a starter.
“This year, I feel completely confident,” Pflueger said. “I’ve solidified my role. I know how to play my game. I feel a lot better about this one.”
And if he scores only one basket – as he did last March – Pflueger’s OK with that. With a caveat.
“Unless it’s at the end of the game to win the game,” he said. “Then I’ll do that again.”
Irish sophomore guard Matt Ryan is pretty lucky in one regard midway through his collegiate career.
Some guys go their entire four seasons without ever getting a chance to play close to home. Pflueger, a California native and his closest friend on the team, hasn’t been any further west than Illinois during his first two seasons.
Ryan will play in the NCAA tournament first round in his home state for a second straight season.
A year ago, it was down in Brooklyn, a short train ride from his home in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. This week, it’s Buffalo, a 352-mile haul.
Still, the Empire State is home.
“It’s pretty sick to be in New York two years in a row,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty sweet.”
“I was hearing Milwaukee and that was pretty depressing,” Ryan said. “Who would want to go to Milwaukee?”
Ryan is one of two New York natives on the roster. Sophomore Elijah Burns is from Troy.
When the Irish convened Sunday on campus at Club Naimoli atop Purcell Pavilion to watch the NCAA tournament selection show, junior power forward Martinas Geben was a bit confused.
Why were some of the teams that CBS had live look-ins on when the bids were announced celebrating so enthusiastically? They were really pumped. Geben turned to Irish video coordinator and former point guard Eric Atkins for advice.
“I asked him why everybody goes so nuts and he said that there are teams that don’t make it every year,” Geben said. “That’s such a foreign feeling to me and our class. As long as we’ve been here, we’ve been successful and made it.
“That’s the expectation for us.”
Geben has played in the NCAA tournament all three seasons in college. His first experience as a player came two years ago in Pittsburgh when No. 3 seed Notre Dame opened with a four-point win over No. 14 Northeastern. His first experience with the NCAA tournament overall came when he arrived as a high school foreign exchange student from his native Lithuania to live with a host family in Maryland.
Everyone in the house caught March Madness fever. Except Geben.
“My host family demanded I fill out a bracket,” he said. “I would just pick some random teams. I didn’t recognize any of them.”