Second-half surge sends Notre Dame to men's hoops win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Handing out hand slaps to the folks in the front row as if they were holiday cookies at one point Sunday, Notre Dame sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson again worked in the words of his head coach, like a “junkyard dog.”

That dog’s life is when Colson’s bark is at his best. He doesn't think about where he might be on the floor offensively, just reads and reacts and flows. On defense, he bounces around, gets his hands on all kinds of stuff, blocks shots, guards and rebounds like a wild man. Or dog.

Colson tied for team highs for points (14) and rebounds (seven) and tied his career high with three assists. All that activity carried the Irish through a sluggish first half before he was part of a small lineup that busted it open with a massive dose of zone defense in the second. When it ended, Notre Dame (7-2) had run its win streak to three with an 81-61 victory over Loyola (Ill.) at Purcell Pavilion.

“That’s what I need to do every game – go out there, play relentless, play with high energy,” Colson said. “It starts with defense, flying around everywhere.”

The Irish have hit for at least 80 points in each of their last three wins. Two of those – Sunday and 11 days prior at Illinois – have come as a direct result of scrapping an ineffective man defense in the second half in favor of zone. It won the Illinois game for Notre Dame, and did much of the same Sunday.

“Amen for zone,” said coach Mike Brey.

Thankful prayer wasn’t supposed to be needed. Notre Dame twice led by as many as 10 points in the first half. Loyola climbed back into the contest by doing what it wanted against the Notre Dame man. The Ramblers’ motion offense and quick guards made them a tough cover. There were times when the Irish with their big lineup simply couldn’t keep up.

The Irish led by six at the break, and by two in the opening minutes of the second half.

“I don’t know if we were really ready to play,” said junior swingman V.J. Beachem. “Once we saw they were going to be sticking around, we were able to make a run. That really got us going.”

Hello, zone.

“Our zone really helped us in the second half against a team that was hard to deal with,” Brey said. “Zone kind of changed the complexion.”

Whether it was the warm temperatures in the building – which will happen when it’s over 60 degrees outside in December – or his building dissatisfaction with his team’s inability to guard, Brey shed his suit coat late in the first half. He never again put it back on.

Unhappy late in the first half with the defensive effort, Brey demanded his guys guard somebody out of man. No switching. Just guarding. Loyola then started the second half with two quick hoops. Notre Dame was reeling. The man went the way of Brey’s suit coat. Gone for good. In its place was the 2-3 zone with a little 1-2-2 fullcourt pressure for good measure.

It became the guarding Irish.

“The 2-3 zone frustrated them a little bit,” Colson said

Notre Dame also went with a small lineup that featured Colson as the lone big with reserve guards Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan getting a big chunk of the playing–time pie. Almost every second-half button the Irish pressed – zone, small lineup, good ball movement – worked.

The zone kick-started a decisive 28-5 run that featured 10 straight points. The Ramblers (5-4) struggled to run any semblance of offense. Notre Dame controlled the defensive backboard, got out in transition and wound up shooting 59.3 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3.

"We were getting into our zone offense a little late, and that's what it does,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “It was a good move changing to a zone. It changes rhythm. I thought we had a nice rhythm going."

Ryan scored a career-high 14 points, one of five Irish in double figures. He did it in a short burst. Ryan played 19 minutes – only nine in the second half – but found his rhythm in time to go 5-of-8 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3, all career bests.

“Last game, I had a couple looks that I didn’t even shoot,” said Ryan, who added a career-high five rebounds. “I was a little mad at myself for that. I can help the team by shooting. Last couple practices, I’ve been very aggressive and just wanted to carry that into today.”

Beachem and Ryan met pre-game and predicted the other would have big shooting days. They combined to go 6-of-12 from 3.

Known simply as a shooter his first two seasons, Beachem mirrored Colson by doing a little more of everything. He scored 10 points, was an effective rebounding presence (he tied Colson with seven) and delivered career highs for assists (four) and blocks (two).

Like with Colson, the Ramblers had no answer for all that activity.

“I just tried to play my overall game,” Beachem said. “Just be active around the rim, being active on both ends. It really opens everything up.

“It really helps our team get into a rhythm.”

Brey knew days in advance that Sunday would be a struggle. Not only because Loyola is a veteran team that won 24 games a year ago, but because his group spent much of the previous three days tending to their academics. With final exams looming this week, basketball was knocked down a peg on the priority pole.

The Irish worked that way in the first 20, then figured it out for the final 20. When it was over, a long week of academics awaited. Beachem knew exactly how many hours (27) stood between a quick post-game shower and one of his toughest finals – finance – coming quickly Monday night.

He planned to meet up with his parents for an early dinner Sunday, and then it was off to the books for the better part of the next 20-plus hours.

“I’ve got a lot of studying to do,” he said. “I’ll wake up (Monday), study, take a nap, study some more and then go take the exam.”

LOYOLA OF CHICAGO (5-4): Peterson 3-7 0-1 7, Turk 2-7 0-0 5, Richardson 3-6 0-0 7, Kirby 2-3 0-0 4, Doyle 3-12 0-0 8, Ingram 5-10 0-0 12, Adgei 0-0 0-0 0, Rajala 2-3 0-0 4, White 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 4-8 0-2 12, Kennedy 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-58 0-3 61.

NOTRE DAME (7-2): Beachem 4-10 0-0 10, Jackson 4-7 1-2 10, Auguste 4-8 0-1 8, Vasturia 3-6 2-2 10, Colson 4-5 6-9 14, Pflueger 1-1 0-0 2, Torres 2-2 0-1 4, Ryan 5-8 0-0 14, Farrell 1-2 2-2 5, Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, Geben 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 29-50 13-19 81.

Halftime_Notre Dame 40-34. 3-Point Goals_Loyola of Chicago 11-24 (Smith 4-7, Ingram 2-3, Doyle 2-6, Richardson 1-1, Peterson 1-2, Turk 1-5), Notre Dame 10-20 (Ryan 4-6, Vasturia 2-4, Beachem 2-6, Farrell 1-1, Jackson 1-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Loyola of Chicago 23 (Ingram 5), Notre Dame 36 (Beachem, Colson 7). Assists_Loyola of Chicago 17 (Doyle 9), Notre Dame 19 (Beachem, Jackson 4). Total Fouls_Loyola of Chicago 17, Notre Dame 10. A_8,653.

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Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson finishes a second-half steal with a slam in an 81-61 victory over Loyola (Ill.).SBT Photo/MIKE HARTMAN