Zach Auguste leads No. 25 Notre Dame to easy ACC win
SOUTH BEND – When last offered the opportunity to make a big difference in a big college basketball game, Notre Dame junior power forward Zach Auguste didn’t deliver.
It was a whole lot different the second time around for Auguste in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener Saturday against Florida State.
Auguste got going with the first basket, then spent much of the night running and jumping and dunking and dunking and dominating for the No. 25 Irish. When it was over, Auguste had started league play the same way he started this season – with a career high for points.
Auguste scored 26 on five dunks and added seven rebounds as the Irish were as efficient and workmanlike and cruel as they’ve been all year in running their win streak to six with an 83-63 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
“We’re just playing with an edge,” Auguste said. “We just have a great team. We’re ready to go and we’re ready to make a statement in this league.”
Auguste spent much of the days leading into this one hearing about two storylines that didn’t sit too well. One, that the Seminoles’ rotation of three 7-footers would cause a whole lot of problems for him and two, that Auguste had trouble doing much against good teams.
Auguste was limited to four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes in last week’s overtime victory over Michigan State. It reached a point where the Irish had to go without him in the rotation to get that win.
On Saturday, Auguste was determined to dominate. Then he did.
“I was ready for this game,” he said. “I was hearing I couldn’t deal with the physicality of the other bigs. I took that to heart.
“I wanted to come out and make a statement, show them I can bang with the best of them.”
While Auguste did as he pleased, the three Seminole bigs combined for eight points and 11 rebounds.
“Huge day for him,” said Irish coach Mike Brey of his best big. “The last high-level game, he wasn’t very good. For him to perform like that was great.”
It marked the most lopsided league win for Notre Dame (10-1; 1-0) in its brief (one season and one game) ACC stay. The Irish shot 51.7 percent from the field, scored 46 points in the paint and limited the other guys to 39.7 percent shooting while forcing 10 turnovers with six steals.
Florida State opened by making six of its first 10 shots, and then cooled. Really cooled. The Seminoles closed the first half by hitting eight of their final 28 and shot 36.8 percent at the break.
The Irish led by as many as 28, led for the final 28 minutes and finished with 10 dunks, five from Auguste. Notre Dame might have gone a month, maybe two, without 10 dunks in a league game last season.
“We’re just attacking, going for it, nothing to lose, baby,” said guard Demetrius Jackson, who had two slams. “We’re flying around making plays, being crazy and having fun doing it.”
“The Irish are throwing down,” Brey said. “How about that? We’ve got some guys that can finish.
“We’re kind of a loose bunch, man.”
With 3:15 remaining and the Irish on absolute cruise control up 27, Auguste, Jerian Grant and Jackson had combined to score more points (62) than Florida State (52).
“There was just a lot of energy in there,” Grant said. “We have a different team this year. We have a lot of athletes.”
Grant and Jackson combined for 36 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and six steals. They controlled the entire game. They went wherever they wanted to go, did whatever they wanted to do and got everyone in gold involved.
“They’re assassins,” Brey said. “What they’re doing to people and how they go after people, I am so excited about what’s developing with those two guys.
“I’d certainly put them up against any backcourt in the country.”
Florida State played without leading scorer Aaron Thomas. Idle for six days since their previous game, the Seminoles practiced all week with Thomas before learning around 1 p.m. Friday that he was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season.
Would Thomas have helped? Maybe not the way the Irish moved and cut and ran and passed and basically hit another gear that the Seminoles simply didn’t have.
“They were a team that knew exactly what they wanted to do,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We lost to a team that was way more efficient.”
Montay Brandon led the Seminoles (4-5; 0-1) with 14.
Grant became the sixth player in school history with at least 1,000 points and 500 assists when he dropped a pass to Auguste for a dunk midway through the first half and career assist No. 500. That arrived just before perhaps the biggest momentum play of the night courtesy of Pat Connaughton.
Michael Ojo, at 7-foot-1, seemingly had a sure dunk right at the rim, only to be swatted by a soaring 6-5 Connaughton. That ignited an Irish break and led to – yep - a Grant dunk to tie it at 19.
Notre Dame was nowhere near done. The Irish ran off 10-straight points before an 18-2 run topped off with a reverse layup from sophomore Austin Torres and a Connaughton 3. Just over six minutes after trailing by four, the Irish were up a dozen. And rolling.
“We wanted to bust that lead open,” Jackson said. “That was one of our focuses and we went out and executed.”
Next up for Notre Dame is a long week of academics and final exams before the annual Crossroads Classic game in Indianapolis. Notre Dame faces Purdue at around 5:15 p.m., Saturday, which follows the Butler-Indiana game.
Sophomore swingman V.J. Beachem shed his crutches and walked into Purcell Pavilion without any limp Thursday just over a week after suffering a plantar fascia tear in his right foot.
“I’m getting better,” said Beachem, the team’s sixth man averaging 8.4 points and shooting 57.1 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from 3 in 16.0 minutes, all career-best numbers.
Beachem sat out his third-straight game Saturday after suffering the injury in practice the day the Dec. 3 game against Michigan State. Brey doesn’t expect Beachem back for any of the two games – Purdue (Dec. 20) or Northern Illinois (Dec. 22) – before Christmas. Notre Dame then gets four days off before reconvening for an evening practice Dec. 27, Beachem’s target return date.
“I would love for that to be my late Christmas present,” Brey said.
He received a really good one, a needed one, around 10 p.m. Saturday.
No. 25 NOTRE DAME 83, FLORIDA ST. 63
FLORIDA ST. (4-5): Smith 3-8 2-2 8, Turpin 1-3 0-0 2, Bookert 4-11 0-0 11, Rathan-Mayes 3-8 2-2 9, Brandon 6-16 2-3 14, Cofer 2-4 0-1 4, Watkins 1-2 0-0 3, Bojanovsky 3-5 0-0 6, Berwick 2-5 0-0 6, Ojo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 6-8 63.
NOTRE DAME (10-1): Auguste 11-15 4-5 26, Jackson 6-12 4-4 18, Grant 6-11 4-5 18, Connaughton 3-13 1-2 9, Vasturia 2-3 0-0 5, Torres 2-3 0-0 4, Farrell 0-0 0-0 0, Katenda 0-0 1-2 1, Burgett 0-1 0-0 0, Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, Geben 1-2 0-0 2, Colson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-60 14-18 83.
Halftime_Notre Dame 38-30. 3-Point Goals_Florida St. 7-19 (Bookert 3-7, Berwick 2-4, Watkins 1-1, Rathan-Mayes 1-4, Smith 0-1, Brandon 0-2), Notre Dame 7-18 (Grant 2-4, Jackson 2-4, Connaughton 2-7, Vasturia 1-2, Burgett 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida St. 37 (Bojanovsky 10), Notre Dame 36 (Connaughton 9). Assists_Florida St. 12 (Rathan-Mayes, Watkins 3), Notre Dame 11 (Grant 5). Total Fouls_Florida St. 14, Notre Dame 14. A_7,691.