Austin Torres delivers energy shot to Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Irish fans love Austin Torres.

He’s the Notre Dame men’s basketball team’s underdog. Limited minutes. Diminished role. Blue-collar work ethic. Same ol’ positive attitude.

Hard to get down on a guy like that.

Since an 11-point, four-rebound, 13-minute performance against Purdue in the Crossroads Classic way back before Christmas, meaningful minutes have been hard to come by for the 6-foot-7, 228-point sophomore who graduated from Penn High School.

Tuesday night, when Torres got the call in Notre Dame’s 88-75 win over Wake Forest, he embraced the opportunity. In 13 minutes off the bench at critical times, Torres had five points, six rebounds, two steals and and a couple potential charging fouls, but didn't get the call.

And, man, did he get the place rockin’.

There were times when Irish coach Mike Brey was pleading with the crowd to raise the volume to encourage his players to come up with a defensive stop. Hardly a peep.

In fact, Brey plans to go after the fans who wouldn’t listen to him.

“Our crowd helped us (pull out the victory),” Brey said. “I had to get up and do a few cartwheels to get ‘em going. I made a mental note: The ones who weren’t standing, when I see them at Martin’s, I will confront them.”

But when Torres started flapping his long arms, the decibels went up in a hurry.

Fans were putty in his hands.

“That’s one of the reasons I like playing (Torres) here,” Brey said. “They love him. He got ‘em going. ‘Keep doing your thing, Austin.’ Whatever it takes.”

What’s not to love?

Tuesday night, the Irish were desperate for some instant energy off the bench.

In other words, a perfect scenario for Torres.

Zach Auguste spent most of the game in foul trouble. Bonzie Colson (eight points, three blocks, two rebounds) had his moments. But the Irish were in need of something more.

“(Torres has) a great attitude; he’s got a great head,” Brey said. “He was really involved (early in the season). Then, he wasn’t involved. (Colson) kind of took that spot.

“That’s where he’s grown so much. He knows we need him. He’s been excellent in practice.

“Tonight, given our energy level wasn’t the best all the time, he’s an energy guy, especially in this building. He gave us great stuff.

“I like the rotation of those guys, it’s kind of a three-headed monster with Zach, Bonzie and him.”

Hard to keep the faith when the opportunities weren’t there. Once into the meat of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, Torres’ minutes were in a steady decline.

He didn’t even see the floor against North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Boston College. Six others he played four or fewer minutes. He was part of the mop-up crew during 10 minutes in the blowout loss to Duke.

So …. Why should he be ready to play a key role against Wake Forest?

“When you’re not getting your minutes, you have to keep working in practice and have that positive energy,” Torres said. “You always have to be ready. I’m just trying to work my way back into the rotation after Bonzie was playing extremely well.”

Torres couldn’t put his finger on anything in particular that he did or didn’t do, that kept him planted on the bench for so long.

“I don’t think it’s anything that I did wrong,” he said. “Other people were flowing better. We were winning games.”

One of Torres’ assignments Tuesday night was to try to put the clamps on Demon Deacon big man Devin Thomas. After 15 points and eight boards in the first half, he was limited a bit in the second, ending with 26 and 11.

While Torres broke into a big smile while recounting his crowd-pleasing dunk and subsequent free throw that lit a fire with the Irish, it was those two charges that weren’t called that may have been his biggest regret. He was square to the guy driving to the basket, and planted, each time. Still, one was a no-call and the other was a blocking foul on him.

“We did a charge drill the other day in practice when someone was driving the lane and they’d try to run us over,” Torres said. “That’s one of the things that separates us. We’re trying to take charges; be in position.

“I thought I was square on both of those.”

Nothing like taking a charge to get a crowd revved up. It’s a tactic that’s not for everybody.

Just another reason why the fans really love Torres.

Notre Dame sophomore Austin Torres reacts to his two-handed dunk during the second half of Tuesday's win over Wake Forest.SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ