Notre Dame men get back on winning basketball track

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — His head coach has been a constant in his corner during the good times and the bad for Notre Dame junior guard Demetrius Jackson throughout his two-plus year collegiate career.

So there was no way that Jackson wasn’t going to deliver an all-around effort Monday after a tough couple of days for Irish coach Mike Brey.

Bouncing back from the most difficult game of his season two nights earlier against Indiana, Jackson scored a team-high 17 points with four assists and four rebounds as the Irish jumped back on the winning track with an 87-78 victory over Youngstown State at Purcell Pavilion.

“Just finding different areas definitely helped me against the zone,” Jackson said. “And just rising up and taking my shot confidently, especially my mid-range jumper.”

The 6-foot-1 Jackson also jumped back to his high school days at Marian and operated a little out of the post against the 2-3 Penguin zone.

“I had a little high-post game in high school,” he said. “Just doing what I could do to help the team. Ball’s not going to fall for me every day, so just doing what I can do to help my team win.”

Barely over 48 hours after letting a 16-point lead get away the final 20 minutes to Indiana, Notre Dame made sure it didn’t happen again. Able to balloon an eight-point halftime lead over 20 the final 20, Notre Dame led by as many as 24 and scored at least 80 for the fourth time in the last five games.

“To come back and get a win was a good feeling for us,” said junior swingman V.J. Beachem, who had 16 points, three blocks, two steals and two rebounds. “We had to come out and be ready to play no matter who it was.”

No matter how tough the circumstance. And it was tough.

Hours after returning Saturday from Indianapolis, the Irish learned during Sunday’s team Mass in the locker room that Brey’s father, Paul, had died the previous night in Florida. He was 85.

“We just wanted to get the win for him,” said sophomore Bonzie Colson, who had 14 points and nine rebounds. “It hurt us all, but we took a lot of that hurt that we had and we played hard.”

There was no way that Brey would not coach Monday.

“Absolutely,” Brey said. “My dad was in bad shape, and it was really a blessing. I’m kind of excited — in my mind, I picture him and Mom at Christmas together.”

Brey coached the NCAA tournament third-round win over Butler last March only hours after his mother, Betty, died of a heart attack. He stayed with his team, in large part because that’s what she would have wanted. This also was what his dad would have wanted.

Brey will spend Christmas in Florida with his siblings.

“We’ll tell some really great stories,” Brey said.

Jackson traded text messages with Brey throughout Sunday to let him know he was thinking of him. Getting his mind right for the game was important, but being there for his coach was more important.

“He’s really a strong guy and we definitely appreciate all that he gives us as a coach,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to let him know I was thinking about him, praying for him. He’s just such a great guy. We just wanted to be there for him like he’s been there for us.”

Brey was there for Jackson after Saturday’s 4-of-17 showing from the floor. The two spent 15 minutes on the bus ride back. Brey’s message was simple — move on to the next one and it will be better.

It was better. All the way around.

After fouling out Saturday, senior captain Zach Auguste bounced back with his seventh double-double of the season — 16 points and 10 rebounds. Most impressive was his work from the free-throw line; he finished 10-of-12. It reached a point in the second half that Auguste was so confident with his stroke from the line that Brey ran a fullcourt out of bounds play designed specifically for him to get fouled, get to the line and make two free throws.

“It was very important; good for me,” Auguste said of his effort. “I went out there, played my game against the zone. It was a great team win.”

The Irish moved to 8-3. The Penguins are 5-8.

The quick turnaround allowed Brey to dip a little deeper into his bench. On Saturday, Brey used only two reserves and made 15 substitutions in the first half against Indiana. On Monday, the Irish went nine deep, again with 15 substitutions.

One of those occurred when officials sent sophomore guard Matt Farrell back to the bench to remove the white compression T-shirt that clashed with his gold jersey tank top.

At one point not even midway through the second half, the Irish had four subs at the scorer’s table. But as was the case earlier in the year in a game that got to be really lopsided, the reserves weren’t able to do much with the time they did get.

Notre Dame’s lead was 20 when Brey made mass substitutions with 5:17 remaining. Just over four minutes later, the reserves had allowed the lead to shrink to eight.

Back came the starters.

“We had a little slippage with the second unit,” Auguste said.

“I feel for the guys we had in the game,” Brey said. “They play a lot together in practice, but they couldn’t hold on.”

Youngstown State placed five in double figures, led by 22 from Cameron Morse.

Afterward, Brey gladly offered up that his team’s collective grade-point average would come in above a 3.0 for the fall semester. Eight players set career bests for their work in the classroom. He was as proud of that as he was the just-completed win.

“I’m really fired up,” he said. “They finished with great habits.”

Word about the fall semester finish reached Brey exactly two years to the day that former guard Jerian Grant told the team in a somber Madison Square Garden locker room that he would be leaving for the spring semester due to an “academic misstep.”

“I’m really proud of them,” Brey said. “We always talk about the semester and, ‘Is everybody OK?’

“Everybody is better than OK.”

YOUNGSTOWN ST. (5-8): Matt Donlan 5-12 2-2 14, Sidney Umude 7-13 1-4 15, Cameron Morse 8-14 4-5 22, Bobby Hain 0-1 0-0 0, Francisco Santiago 0-5 0-0 0, Latin Davis 3-4 4-4 11, Brett Frantz 1-2 0-0 2, Jordan Andrews 4-8 0-0 12, Bryce Nickels 1-3 0-2 2. Totals 29-62 11-17 78.

NOTRE DAME (8-3): V.J. Beachem 6-9 0-0 16, Demetrius Jackson 8-12 0-0 17, Zach Auguste 3-5 10-12 16, Steve Vasturia 1-7 2-2 4, Bonzie Colson 6-8 2-5 14, Rex Pflueger 1-3 0-0 2, Austin Torres 2-2 1-2 5, Matt Ryan 2-7 2-2 7, Matt Farrell 1-5 0-0 2, Austin Burgett 1-1 0-1 2, Martinas Geben 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 32-60 17-24 87.

Halftime--Notre Dame 41-33. 3-Point Goals--Youngstown St. 9-22 (Andrews 4-7, Donlan 2-5, Morse 2-5, Davis 1-1, Hain 0-1, Frantz 0-1, Santiago 0-2), Notre Dame 6-24 (Beachem 4-6, Jackson 1-3, Ryan 1-6, Pflueger 0-2, Vasturia 0-3, Farrell 0-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Youngstown St. 33 (Umude 11), Notre Dame 35 (Auguste 10). Assists--Youngstown St. 16 (Morse 4), Notre Dame 21 (Vasturia 8). Total Fouls--Youngstown St. 18, Notre Dame 13. A--7,313.

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Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson works against the Youngstown State defense during Monday's win by the Irish at Purcell pavilion.SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES