Zach Auguste, Bonzie Colson key latest Notre Dame run

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

ATLANTA — Feeling their way through how both would fit within the system's framework, there was a question earlier this college basketball system whether they would figure it out.

It didn’t matter that the two became fast friends and road roommates during the team’s foreign tour of Italy in August 2014. Didn’t matter that both shared a common bond and love for their native Massachusetts. Didn’t matter that they spent almost every available free hour playing video games or watching movies together. Didn’t even matter that one cuts the other’s hair.

Notre Dame senior power forward and resident team barber Zach Auguste and sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson operated on the basketball court earlier this season as if they were perfect strangers. They didn’t know how to properly space the floor so one could have enough room in the post. Didn’t know how to best communicate on the defensive end. Didn’t know how to work together, even though they spent so much time together.

Both believed they eventually would figure it out.

They’ve figured it out.

Heading into another key Atlantic Coast Conference road game Saturday (8 p.m.; ESPN2) against Georgia Tech (14-12; 4-9), the recent work of Auguste and Colson is a big reason why No. 19 Notre Dame (18-7; 9-4) finds itself back in the national rankings this week riding a three-game league win streak and in serious pursuit of a regular-season conference championship.

The Irish bigs have been big.

“They have such a great will,” said coach Mike Brey. “Right now, they are really taking on other front lines and putting it on them. The way Bonzie and Zach have been playing and how physical and how tough they’ve been, I don’t think I should be surprised.

“They have a great edge about them. They’re a little bit of a tag team.”

Both are playing their best basketball. The 6-foot-10 Auguste has hit for double figures in points and rebounds in five of the last eight games. He’s grabbed at least 10 rebounds in six of those eight. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer (14.0 ppg) and leading rebounder (10.1). He’s also discovered his leadership voice over the last month, when he’s refused to let ineffectiveness or early foul trouble derail his determination.

Good during non-league play as a first-year starter, the 6-5 Colson has been even better since ACC play commenced. He’s second on the squad in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (7.1) in league games. He’s converting 53.9 percent of his shots from the floor and 85.4 percent from the foul line.

“We just boys, man,” Auguste said of the relationship. “We’re cool together. We roll together very well.”

That has the Irish rolling, and other teams wondering exactly how their front line gets outplayed and outworked by the two power forwards for a program that has long been known more for finesse than force.

“In my time here, we’ve always been considered weak inside,” said junior point guard Demetrius Jackson. “I feel like we’re really beating teams up inside and outrebounding teams every game. It really gets us going.”

Jackson has the strongest say in huddles during timeouts and in the locker room before the game. His message to Auguste and Colson has remained consistent as Notre Dame has won eight of 10.

Own ... The ... Paint.

“That’s what they do,” Jackson said. “They work in a tandem and they really handle their business down there.”

Auguste and Colson have found an effective working chemistry simply by keeping it simple. They don’t so much worry about spacing or shots as they do about patrolling around the rim. If one happens to be caught out of position or boxed out on a certain sequence, they know the other will help out.

“Our relationship off the court really helps trust each other on the court,” Colson said. “We’re gelling really well together and we know we have to go out there and rebound.”

Since being battered on the backboard (-10 rebounding margin) in the Jan. 9 home loss to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame has outrebounded opponents in six of its last 10 league games. That includes a +12 margin in last week’s win over No. 18 Louisville.

There still are times when the Irish work for stretches with a four-around-one lineup featuring only one big. But when it’s time to start and time to finish, Brey leans on the Auguste-Colson pairing.

“We’re just a dual threat,” Auguste said. “When we’re working together, it’s hard to guard us both, especially on the glass.”

Auguste and Colson get a chance Saturday to do it together in the city where one’s college career was jump-started at the expense of the other. In January 2015, Auguste skipped the trip to Atlanta to tend to an academic issue on campus. After starting the game on the bench, Colson eventually got his first real chance and first real taste of big-time basketball. He delivered on all fronts with then career highs for points (10) and minutes (22). He also grabbed four rebounds and played with an edge that was contagious with teammates in a 62-59 win over Georgia Tech.

Colson stepped into the rotation that night, and hasn’t ever stepped out.

“A big wake-up call for me, but it also was a great experience,” he said. “I just played and played confidently and played my game. It was a time I was ready for.”

Colson played a chunk of the second half that night with cotton stuffed in his left nostril after being given a bloody nose from Tech power forward Charles Mitchell.

Georgia Tech suddenly is a confident group following its 86-80 win Wednesday at Florida State. Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 27 points and Adam Smith 25 as the Yellow Jackets shot 53.8 percent from the field and outrebounded the Seminoles 32-25. Colson will have to keep Mitchell and fellow power forward Nick Jacobs in check Saturday.

He won’t be afraid to do dirty work. Or get bloodied. Again.

“If a bloody nose is needed for us to get that edge, I’ll take one for the team,” Colson said. “We want to be a dominant force in the country and in the ACC.”

His buddy, his brother, will be right there alongside to battle.

“We can’t let them bully us on the backboard,” Auguste said. “We’ve got to rely on each other and trust the process.

“Everything else will play itself out.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks (3) goes up for a shot next to Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste (30) and Bonzie Colson (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin)

WHO: No. 19 Notre Dame (18-7 overall; 9-4 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (14-12; 4-9).

WHERE: McCamish Pavilion (8,600), Atlanta.

WHEN: Saturday at 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN2.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

Only two weeks remain in college basketball’s regular season, and the postseason tournament double-byes awarded to the top four finishers in the Atlantic Coast Conference remain up for grabs.

Following is a look at the teams currently in the top seven of the league standings. The group does not include Louisville, which will not participate in the conference tournament after self-imposed sanctions stemming from an NCAA investigation over recruiting issues.

Teams are listed in their current order in the standings heading into Saturday’s games. Also listed are each team’s current tiebreaker situation with Notre Dame:

• MIAMI (Fla.) (21-4 overall; 10-3 ACC)

At North Carolina; Virginia; Louisville; at Notre Dame; at Virginia Tech.

Tiebreaker: Miami

• NORTH CAROLINA (21-5; 10-3).

Miami; at North Carolina State; at Virginia; Syracuse; at Duke.

Tiebreaker: Notre Dame

• VIRGINIA (21-5; 10-4)

At Miami; North Carolina; at Clemson; Louisville.

Tiebreaker: Virginia

• NOTRE DAME (18-7; 9-4)

At Georgia Tech; at Wake Forest; at Florida State; Miami; North Carolina State.

• DUKE (20-6; 9-4)

At Louisville; Florida State; at Pittsburgh; Wake Forest; North Carolina

Tiebreaker: Notre Dame

• CLEMSON (16-10; 9-5)

At North Carolina State; at Georgia Tech; Virginia; at Boston College.

Tiebreaker: Notre Dame

• SYRACUSE: (18-9; 8-6)

Pittsburgh; North Carolina State; at North Carolina; at Florida State.

Tiebreaker: Syracuse