Irish Rewind: Bonzie Colson leads Notre Dame to historic ACC win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

DURHAM, N.C. -- Racing down a small staircase as if he had a plane to catch -- and in a way, he did -- Notre Dame sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson hit the basement locker room door Saturday afternoon and immediately started celebrating.

He jumped around with his teammates. He yelled. He screamed. He may have even danced. After 40 minutes of inspired basketball in Cameron Indoor Stadium and one of the biggest wins in school history, Colson and the Irish had every reason to cut loose.

Colson hit for a career-high 31 points off the bench with 11 rebounds to keep his teammates believing as No. 9 Duke made late run after late run. But Notre Dame held strong to make history.

Searching for a signature win that would serve as a slingshot through the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season, Notre Dame got it, 95-91.

It was the first time in eight games that Notre Dame won in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"I don't think it's hit anybody yet," Colson said of the big-picture, history-book impact. "We're just excited to get this win. It was huge for us. It was one we had to work for. We're feeling really good right now."

Winners of two straight league games for the first time this season, Notre Dame improved to 12-5, 3-2 in the ACC. The Irish have beaten the Blue Devils in four of the five times they've met as conference colleagues. The loss was last year's 90-60 shellacking, the most lopsided in coach Mike Brey's tenure.

"I'm very proud of my group," Brey said. "We didn't handle the atmosphere in here last year very well at all. The nucleus of guys that experienced last year were better this year. They were really poised."

Very quietly, Notre Dame also has stepped forward and planted its northern flag firmly along Tobacco Road. Saturday's win marked the sixth time in the last seven games that Notre Dame has played a college basketball game in the state of North Carolina and returned home winners.

"We're playing great in this state," Brey said. "To beat this program four out of five, it's great credibility and it says we belong in the league."

Losers of two straight league games, Duke fell to 14-4, 3-2. Luke Kennard led the Blue Devils with a career-high 30.

"It hurts right now," Kennard said of his career day. "We just have to forget about it."

With the Irish up by two points and four seconds remaining, Demetrius Jackson had a chance to put this one on ice. But his first free throw fell short. Senior power forward Zach Auguste was there for the all-important rebound, the last of his game-high 14. He was fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining, hit both free throws, and it was celebration time.

"That's a big rebound there by Z.A.," said junior Steve Vasturia, who scored a career-high 22 points. "For him to step up and knock those two free throws down was big for him, and big for us."

Auguste had a chance to put away the Alabama game in a similar situation, but missed both free throws. Not on this day. Losing here last year, the Irish couldn't get out of the building fast enough. On Saturday, they lingered long after the final horn, savoring their success.

"Everybody's hanging out, but it was just really good to get a win against a great team," said Jackson, who went for 24 points, four assists and two rebounds in all 40 minutes. "Especially in a really tough place to play. It's going to give us a lot of confidence going forward."

Still, it was never going to be easy. Not after the Irish twice trailed by eight in a first half that saw them allow a season-high 50 points. Not after Notre Dame used a 13-1 scoring spurt that stretched from late in the first half to early in the second to lead by as many as six.

And certainly not when the Blue Devils, riding the momentum of its home crowd -- the Cameron Crazies -- kept making it a one-possession game in some way shape or form. During the second half, it was a one-possession game -- meaning no team led by more than three -- 28 different times.

Notre Dame, in essence, took 28 separate punches, some to the body, some to the head, some to the face, but each time found a way to battle back and answer.

Who was going to answer next? Colson? Auguste? Jackson? Vasturia? Everyone did as Duke led only twice -- for 36 seconds over the final 17:49.

"We were really calm," Vasturia said. "Demetrius was really calm. He just kind of ran the show, kept us under control at both ends of the floor. All of us came in here with the mindset that we had nothing to lose and it showed."

A season that was filled with so many questions finally saw the Irish offer an answer. Big game? Big deal? Close game? Not close enough. Notre Dame believed it would figure out a way to keep attacking, keep scoring and, imagine that, keep getting just enough stops that it needed to get back on its charter flight home with the signature win.

"We're feeling really confident," Vasturia said. "We want to keep this thing rolling."

It didn't look promising for the Irish following a Grayson Allen 3 that brought the Blue Devils within one, 86-85, with 1:47 remaining. On the ensuing offensive possession, Jackson and Auguste couldn't get their screen-roll game in gear, and Jackson dribbled the ball out of bounds for a turnover. Allen then gave the Blue Devils the lead.

Gulp!

This looked like it was unraveling the way earlier losses to Alabama and Monmouth did.

"We were so tough tonight," Jackson said. "We didn't let plays affect us. We stayed together. We stayed cool. We had each other's backs. We kept pushing each other to be great."

After changing up the lineup to start the Georgia Tech game -- freshman Matt Ryan in, Colson out -- Brey stayed with it to open Saturday, then went back to Colson to begin the second half.

"Bonzie's a big-game guy," Brey said. "Bonzie's such a warrior, and that's why I wanted to start him the second half. I didn't want to mess around. He's rolling and giving us some toughness."

Colson promptly delivered seven points and two rebounds in less than three minutes. Brey predicted back on campus earlier in the week that Colson would be the one set for a bust-out game. Boy, was he. Did he.

"I don't know, man, I just tried to come off the bench with effort, energy, do everything that my team wants me to do," Colson said. "We all were ready. We were prepared."

NOTRE DAME (12-5): VJ Beachem 1-3 0-0 2, Matt Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Zach Auguste 3-12 3-6 9, Demetrius Jackson 10-16 4-5 24, Steve Vasturia 8-16 2-2 22, Rex Pflueger 2-5 2-2 7, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Bonzie Colson 12-19 5-5 31. Totals 36-72 16-20 95.

DUKE (14-4): Brandon Ingram 7-14 7-9 25, Marshall Plumlee 4-6 0-1 8, Grayson Allen 5-11 6-7 18, Luke Kennard 10-15 6-7 30, Matt Jones 3-8 0-2 8, Chase Jeter 0-0 0-0 0, Derryck Thornton 0-2 2-2 2, Sean Obi 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 29-56 21-30 91.

Halftime-Duke 50-45. 3-Point Goals-Notre Dame 7-16 (Vasturia 4-6, Colson 2-3, Pflueger 1-2, Ryan 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Beachem 0-2), Duke 12-24 (Kennard 4-6, Ingram 4-7, Jones 2-5, Allen 2-6). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Notre Dame 38 (Auguste 14), Duke 33 (Plumlee 9). Assists-Notre Dame 13 (Jackson, Vasturia 4), Duke 16 (Allen 6). Total Fouls-Notre Dame 23, Duke 16. A-9,314.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Each week during the college basketball season, NDI takes a look back at a memorable Irish game with a reprint of the story that appeared in the South Bend Tribune.

This week's Irish Rewind was an easy one - one, because it happened only a year ago and two, it was indeed some Irish hoops history when Notre Dame went to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 16, 2016 and won for the first time in program history.

This story appeared in the Jan. 17, 2016 edition of the Tribune.

If you have a suggestion for Irish Rewind, send it to tnoie@ndinsider.com.