Lesar: Bonzie Colson finds a new comfort zone in Notre Dame's win over Wake

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Common sense said that Bonzie Colson had no business shooting that shot.

The Irish trailed by eight, five minutes into the second half, and they were leaking momentum — and confidence — by the gallon.

The Notre Dame men's basketball team’s 6-foot-5 junior “big man” had just missed two free throws. And, remember, this is a guy who has hit just 11 of 37 3-pointers all season, and 16 of 56 in his career.

No matter. Colson let it fly from the top of the key. Nothing but net.

That was the start of a second-half onslaught that yielded Colson 27 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. On top of that production, he spent most of the game trying to contain 6-10 double-double machine John Collins of Wake Forest (24 points, 14 rebounds).

That performance was instrumental in Notre Dame’s crucial 88-81 victory over Wake Forest, Tuesday night.

Lose this game, with Florida State looming Saturday, and the Irish — who broke a four-game losing streak — are in a world of hurt. It could have been from the ACC penthouse two weeks ago, to a bird's-eye view of what the conference outhouse looks like.

“I know Bonzie well, so don’t take this the wrong way,” said Demon Deacons coach Danny Manning. “He’s Bonzie. He posted up. He made plays. He played a good game.”

OK, now that’s a case of understating the obvious.

Besides his first 3-pointer, Colson delivered on a second — from the left side, inches from the lap of Irish head football coach Brian Kelly, who was sitting in the front row.

That shot, with 12:03 to play, gave they Irish a 56-54 lead. They never trailed after that.

“Coach (Mike) Brey always talks about ‘calm’ feet,” Colson said. “I did that. I just looked them in.

“(After the two missed free throws), coach always talks about moving on to the next play. That’s our identity. That’s what I had to do.”

Actually, the new Irish lineup has had something to do with making Colson more available to let it fly from long range than he’s been in the past. Sitting 6-10 Martin Geben, in favor of guards Rex Pflueger or T.J. Gibbs, has changed Notre Dame’s offensive spacing.

“Given how, when we play the five-out (a smaller lineup), (Colson is) not in the low post anymore,” said Brey. “He’s out handling the ball on the perimeter; more of a perimeter guy – dribble exchange, sneaks into the post sometime.

“Because he’s played out there with the ball in his hands, and that he’s the only ‘big’ on the floor, there’s room, because you’ve gotta guard our shooters, he’s gotten more comfortable.

“He has a very good stroke. That could continue to be a weapon. The two he made … That’s just a fearless guy.”

Of course, being the only “big” on the floor has its drawbacks — like having to contend with Collins every time down the floor. Tuesday’s effort was Collins’ seventh straight scoring output of at least 20 points.

“(Colson) was thoroughly exhausted,” Brey said about the late stages of the game. “That’s why I used the timeouts at times, just to rest. We couldn’t take him out.

“To wrestle Collins in the post, then to do what he did offensively, it’s physically unbelievable. Taking big shots … Taking big 3s … He’s a winner man, he’s a winner.

“When he plays in his ‘junkyard (dog)’ mode, he’s a double-double machine.”

“It’s hard,” Colson said of the matchup with Collins. “You’ve gotta keep battling. My team was giving me all the confidence. I tried making it hard for him to catch it.”

Collins had 12 points and eight boards at the intermission. Colson said some adjustments limited Collins' second-half rebounding production.

“I figured out his rhythm and what he could do,” Colson said. “I tried not to make it so easy for him to get it. I just use my strong chest.

“I want to be that guy that goes out there and gets every rebound. We stayed together and we all contributed. We knew we had to dig in on both sides of the floor. When adversity hits, we had to respond.”

Except, a “big” connecting from long range — twice — with the outcome in the balance isn’t the textbook way it should have happened.

But, then again: He’s Bonzie.

Wake Forest's John Collins (20) competes with Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson (right) for a rebound during ND's 88-81 victory, Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)