Notre Dame men's basketball starters show the way in win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There will be nights as the Notre Dame men’s basketball train moves further down the track when someone unexpectedly steps from the shadows and into a starring role.

Tuesday wasn’t one of those nights for No. 18 Notre Dame against a veteran Milwaukee team that came to town a confident club.

A career night from junior wing V.J. Beachem, who had hoped for days to do more than he did in Friday’s opener, and efficient work from his fellow starters helped the Irish avoid becoming another in the myriad of early-season upsets.

Beachem tied his career high for points with 19 and grabbed a career-best eight rebounds and his fellow starters all scored double figures as Notre Dame moved to 2-0 with an 86-78 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

“We found our offensive rhythm pretty much from the five-minute mark of the first half the rest of the game,” Beachem said. “We were really flowing offensively. That’s really the first time we’ve gotten into that.”

If it wasn’t Beachem looking and feeling more comfortable and confident in his game, it was another starter doing something special.

Again running everything in the halfcourt, guard Demetrius Jackson delivered Irish game-highs for points (20) and assists (seven). Fellow captain Zach Auguste shrugged off a sluggish first half to go for 17 points with six rebounds. Junior guard Steve Vasturia was his usual efficient, quietly-effective self with 13 points and four rebounds.

And sophomore Bonzie Colson, aching so badly to get back into game action after fouling out four nights earlier, did a little of everything. He scored 12 points with six rebounds, two assists and two steals. He also was the main guy doing just about everything as the Irish wiped out a six-point deficit in the first half with a decisive 16-2 run to close the final 5:50.

“I’m just trying to have fun, man,” Colson said of his effort. “This is a game we all love and don’t want to make it too hard for ourselves. We just want to play our game and we did that tonight.”

Of Notre Dame’s final tally of 86 points, 28 rebounds, 20 assists (against only five turnovers), five steals and four blocks, the starters combined for 81 points, 24 rebounds, 17 assists, five steals and four blocks. Their work together — the best they’ve flown since everything started last month — was a big reason why Notre Dame also shot a sizzling 57.1 percent from the field.

“We all know each other and what we can do offensively,” Colson said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

All five played at least 26 minutes.

“They had to win one tonight,” coach Mike Brey said. “That was good for them.”

The Irish starters needed to be good against a confident Panther club that had arrived back in the Midwest after winning three games in three days to capture the Cable Car Classic in Northern California. A veteran team expected to give Valparaiso a run at first place in the Horizon League, Milwaukee kept its upset hopes burning by shooting a scorching 66.7 percent (14-for-21) from 3.

“They’re hard to deal with,” Brey said. “Usually when you absorb 14 3s, you lose those kind of games. Fortunately, our offensive efficiency was better.

“We had to score to escape. Some nights, you’ve just gotta do that.”

Seeing Georgetown, North Carolina State, UCLA, Wisconsin and Virginia all lose games over the first few days of the regular season that many figured were wins caused Brey even more consternation about this one. The more film he watched of Milwaukee, the more he had flashbacks to an Indiana State team that stormed out of Purcell Pavilion with a victory two years ago to the day (Nov. 17, 2013).

Brey was so concerned with Tuesday’s game that he admitted afterward he hadn’t eaten all day. This was set up to be one of those weird ones, but the Irish starters refused to become another early-season upset footnote.

The main five’s attention to detail busted open a close contest late in the first half and early in the second. Yeah, they were efficient offensively, but that execution was kick-started by stop after stop on the defensive end. Getting those allowed the Irish to get out for easy baskets in transition. When an easy transition look wasn’t there for the Irish, Jackson simply carved up the opposition in the halfcourt. He’d find Auguste rolling to the rim for a slam, or he’d simply turn the corner himself and, just like he did against Purdue 7-footer Isaac Haas last December, finish with a right-hand windmill slam over 6-10 J.J. Panoske.

“It was all right,” Jackson said of a sequence that turned into a three-point play. “It could have been cleaner, but the most important thing is the ‘W.’”

Notre Dame connected on 10 of its first 11 shots over the first 7:39 of the second half. That helped the home team push its lead to 20.

Akeem Springs led the Panthers with 21 points. Matt Tiby added 16 points and 13 rebounds. The visitors were good for stretches, but the home team was just better.

“When Notre Dame decides to turn it up and play at the level that they’re capable of playing at, they’re very difficult to handle,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “Man, Notre Dame, when they turned it up, they were pretty good.”

The Irish led by as many as 20 and improved to 59-1 (Indiana State that lone loss) in November during Brey’s 16 seasons.

The biggest difference the first 20 minutes was Colson. After fouling out in the opener with three points and two rebounds in 15 inefficient minutes, Colson was really good the first 20 on Tuesday. He finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists in 15 efficient minutes. He was a spark on both ends that the Irish really needed.

“Bonzie was all over the place,” Brey said. “Bonzie needed a night like that.”

So did the rest of the starters.

MILWAUKEE (3-1): Jo. Johnson 4-10 2-2 11, Springs 7-12 3-3 21, Panoske 3-6 0-0 8, Tiby 5-12 5-9 16, Arians 7-11 0-0 19, Stull 0-0 0-0 0, Wichmann 1-1 0-0 3, Jordan 0-1 0-0 0, Rongstad 0-0 0-0 0, Studer 0-0 0-0 0, Lyle 0-0 0-0 0, B. Prahl 0-1 0-0 0, A. Prahl 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 10-14 78.

NOTRE DAME (2-0): Beachem 7-12 1-2 19, Jackson 8-15 4-4 20, Auguste 8-11 1-2 17, Vasturia 4-9 5-5 13, Colson 3-3 5-6 12, Pflueger 0-1 0-0 0, Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan 2-4 0-0 5, Farrell 0-1 0-0 0, Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Geben 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-56 16-19 86.

Halftime: Notre Dame 39-31. 3-Point Goals: Milwaukee 14-21 (Arians 5-7, Springs 4-4, Panoske 2-3, Wichmann 1-1, Tiby 1-1, Jo. Johnson 1-4, B. Prahl 0-1), Notre Dame 6-18 (Beachem 4-7, Colson 1-1, Ryan 1-3, Pflueger 0-1, Vasturia 0-2, Jackson 0-4). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Milwaukee 27 (Tiby 13), Notre Dame 28 (Beachem 8). Assists: Milwaukee 21 (Jo. Johnson 10), Notre Dame 20 (Jackson 7). Total Fouls: Milwaukee 17, Notre Dame 12. A: 7,464.

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Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem goes up for a dunk during the second half of Tuesday's win over Milwaukee.SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN