Notes: Austin Torres settles back in at Notre Dame after scary week

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – It was a week that Notre Dame senior power forward Austin Torres won’t soon forget.

Or want to repeat.

It started Monday with Torres being loaded into an ambulance for transport to a local hospital after the Penn High School product experienced a rapid heartbeat early in the team’s second exhibition. It ended Saturday with Torres traveling down the baseline and finishing a Rex Pflueger look with a two-handed dunk and subsequent primal scream during the 89-64 victory over Bryant in the season opener at Purcell Pavilion.

It was the only basket in eight minutes for Torres, who was the first big man off the bench for the Irish. Five days earlier, Torres wasn’t sure when – or even if – he’d play again after asking out of the exhibition. His heartbeat had revved. His arms and legs tingled. All were sensations that Torres had never before experienced. It was, for a few minutes, rather scary.

“I just knew that something wasn’t right,” he said. “I felt it in my body that something was wrong.”

Torres left Monday's game immediately for the locker room. When his father, Rick, arrived, he expected his son to be sitting and talking with trainer Skip Meyer. Instead, when Rick Torres opened the door to the locker-room lounge, there was the 6-foot-8 power forward laying flat on his back on a lounge couch, his game jersey off and assorted wires and monitors being hooked to his upper body.

Whoa ...

A host of hospital visits and tests over the next three days provided no definitive answer as to how and why it all happened. It also showed no further heart issues.

“I just have a lot of faith in our (medical) staff,” Torres said. “They’re going to take all the measures they need to make sure I’m as healthy as possible to pay the game that I play. They were able to do that.

“My health is good enough to play.”

By Thursday, Torres was back at practice, then back in the rotation less than 48 hours later doing what he does.

“It’s something you can’t really think about,” he said. “It can be a life-changing event, but you’ve got to have confidence in what you’re doing.

“I’m feeling really good and glad our team got our first win.”

Board blues?

Notre Dame was out-rebounded, 37-34, but those are numbers that Irish coach Mike Brey will live with given the reliance on lineups featuring four perimeter players around one big man.

Less than five minutes into the opener, Brey subbed Pflueger for power forward Martinas Geben. The Irish played long stretches with only one big man.

“When we’re smaller, we’re going to get pounded a little bit,” Brey said. “That’s a thing we’re going to have to keep an eye on.”

Notre Dame’s four bigs of Geben, Torres, Elijah Burns and John Mooney combined for 11 points and 11 rebounds, but only three on the offensive end.

“We could be better there,” Brey said.

Defending large lineups will be a challenge for the Irish down the road, but as long as Pflueger continues to play the way he did Saturday – six points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals in 17 minutes – Brey will stay with small ball.

“Rex, he’s fabulous,” Brey said. “Are you kidding me? I love that guy. Defensively, he’s flying around; he’s moving around. He’s a winner, man.”

Fine at the line

Not able to fall back on the 3, Notre Dame had to find other ways Saturday to score points.

The Irish were 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) from behind the arc. Notre Dame then looked to the foul line. There they jumped into the bonus early in both halves.

“It was a halfcourt game,” Brey said. “Who are we going to be when it becomes a grinding halfcourt game? It was tonight.

“If we’re having a hard time and not making jump-shots, OK, let’s drive that thing with some movement.”

That movement, coupled with the new officiating emphasis on calling fouls tighter on the perimeter, saw the Irish to go 26-of-29 (89.7 percent) from the foul line.

“That’s huge,” said junior power forward Bonzie Colson, who finished 6-of-6. “We practice free throws all the time and focus. We just have to keep doing it consistently.”

Baseline bits

• Brey’s self-proclaimed “big three” of V.J. Beachem, Colson and Steve Vasturia, combined for 61 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. All three captains played at least 28 minutes.

• Irish junior point guard Matt Farrell finished with a career-high six assists.

• After averaging 9.5 turnovers in two exhibitions, the Irish committed only three Saturday.

• Sophomore power forward Elijah Burns scored five points – all from the foul line – with two rebounds in six minutes in his first collegiate game. Burns sat out last season to preserve a year of eligibility.

• Notre Dame has won 18 consecutive season openers dating back to 1999. Brey is 17-0 in openers as Irish coach.

• With no television timeouts, Saturday’s game was completed in an hour and 41 minutes.

• Despite the early finish – the game ended at 1:41 p.m., – the Bryant traveling party wasn’t scheduled to leave South Bend until early Sunday morning. The Bulldogs flew commercial from Rhode Island.

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