Senior captain Zach Auguste delivers for Irish men

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Some time, somewhere, somehow, someone was going to have to step forward.

Notre Dame’s pre-powerball draw, late-night basketball clankfest with Georgia Tech was an Athletic Coast Conference victory just waiting to happen.

Nobody seemed to want it, though.

The more the Irish struggled, the worse the Yellow Jackets got. Both teams had trouble yanking the lid off the hoop until Zach Auguste caught fire.

For some reason, Tech just couldn’t handle the pick-and-roll. In the second half, Demetrius Jackson hit Auguste for four straight buckets that gave the Irish a little juice they had been lacking. While everyone else was off-kilter, Auguste was effective. He hit 10-of-13 shots, scored 24 points and was instrumental in the Irish surviving an offensive nightmare, 72-64. He punctuated the night by smacking a shot attempt into the third row of the student section in the final 10 seconds to seal the victory. Auguste also finished with nine rebounds.

“We had (freshman guard) Matt (Ryan) start, which was a little reminiscent of last year with four-out and one-in,” Auguste said. “We have great shooters on the wing. The defense has to make the decision, guard them or guard me. When I set screens, I’m going to be open.”

The Irish, who shot 39 percent for the game (21 of 54), scored 38 points in the paint – most of which Auguste was responsible.

“We took a learning experience from last game,” Auguste said. “We have to stay mentally focused. We have to play defense for 40 minutes and we have to execute.

“We executed in the end. We’re a very unselfish team. We’re a threat inside and outside.”

Most of the night, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Auguste was charged with trying to limit Charles Mitchell’s touches. Suited just as well for the defensive end as power forward, the 6-8, 256-pound Mitchell was a beast on the boards. He had 13 while being a factor on both ends.

Auguste came up with a critical offensive rebound of his own with 1:57 to play. Notre Dame led 61-58 when Steve Vasturia drove to the basket and missed. Auguste came up with the board, his eighth of the game, and was fouled. He made both free throws, giving the Irish some breathing room.

It was the first real opportunity to relax all night.

The Irish were up by three at halftime, but neither team was interested in taking control. No consistency in shooting. Defense wasn’t very good, but it didn’t have to be.

It was the polar opposite of what happened in last Saturday’s 86-82 loss to Pittsburgh. Both teams couldn’t miss in that one. This time, they couldn’t buy a basket.

Leading by six and needing a defensive stop midway through the second half, Irish coach Mike Brey was pleading with the Leprechaun Legion to supply some energy. The students just looked back at him with blank stares that come on the second day of classes.

That’s the sort of night it was.

Timeouts have to be the most difficult part of the Notre Dame basketball experience for fans to handle. Sure as shootin’, whenever there’s a break in the action the Jumbotron flashes highlights of last year’s amazing run.

First, there was Jerian Grant making a rim-rattling dunk and poster-boy hang on the cylinder during an overtime win over Georgia Tech. Then, there was the recollection of Pat Connaughton’s fade-away jumper that was critical in the ACC Tournament upset of Duke.

Cut back to live action. Bonzie Colson clanks the back of the rim from three feet. Matt Ryan draws iron on the kind of 3-pointer that used to be automatic last year.

Ahhh, for the good ol’ days.

A big night from senior power forward Zach Auguste allowed Notre Dame to get back on its Atlantic Coast Conference winning track.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN