Bonzie Colson leads Notre Dame past No. 14 Florida State

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – They chanted his name while he was scoring and rebounding and hustling and sticking out his tongue after big plays, doing anything and everything Saturday evening to make sure a certain streak finally stopped for Notre Dame.

“Bonzie Colson!”

“Bonzie Colson!”

When it was over and he had delivered yet another monster Atlantic Coast Conference effort, Colson was cheered a final time as he raised his arms triumphantly on the way to the locker room.

Just when the 6-foot-5 junior power forward couldn’t have been any better or played any bigger than earlier in the week in a must-win against Wake Forest, he was. He did.

He was so much better. Downright dominant.

Colson scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to lead a determined Irish effort that ended in an 84-72 victory over No. 14 Florida State.

“I’m just trying to play the hardest I can on both sides of the floor,” Colson said with a semi-shrug. “My teammates give me confidence to do that. It’s a good feeling right now. We stayed together.”

Winners over a ranked team for the second time this season after four straight losses, all in league play and six setbacks overall, Notre Dame improved to 19-7, 8-5 in the ACC. Florida State fell to 21-5, 9-4.

Hours earlier, in the first-ever sneak peek NCAA tournament selection show, Florida State was handed an all-too-early No. 2 seed, and sixth overall, by the committee. For much of Saturday, it was Notre Dame that played the part of the nation’s elite.

Leading the way in this statement game was Colson, whose motor started running hot during pre-game introductions as he pounded the empty blue padded seat next to him once, twice, three times before hearing his name called and bounding out toward center court.

Then he just kept going.

And going.

And going.

“Just trying to be more confident,” Colson said. “Our movement has helped us spacing the floor.”

Along the way, Colson became the 61st player in program history to score 1,000 career points. He did it on one of the game’s signature moments during an Irish run that helped break this one open.

Up by nine points at halftime, the Irish quickly added six to that lead and were up 15 and looking for more. Out in transition against the Seminoles, the Irish got the ball to senior captain Steve Vasturia, who rose from his favorite spot in the far corner for a 3 that would have blown the roof off the building.

It didn’t fall, but Colson made sure to keep the joint jumping.

Colson sailed in from somewhere out by South Bend International Airport to corral Vasturia’s miss and, in one motion, lay it up and in.

Air Colson?

For Colson it was points 999 and 1,001 of his career, and rebound No. 10, which gave him his league-leading 16th double double for points and rebounds.

“Every time that ball goes up, I try my best to attack the board,” Colson said. “I just wanted to go to the glass.”

It wasn’t just Colson that drove the guys in the mustard-gold jerseys to a second straight league win.

Waiting on this one from the minute the first meeting in Tallahassee, Fla., ended on Jan. 18, point guard Matt Farrell had vowed to be better. That night in North Florida, he was hesitant, passive, unsure of his play. Rattled by the Seminoles’ pressure. Not his Jersey-sure self.

Notre Dame got the attacking, aggressive, go-for-it version of Farrell, who was just as good as Colson. Farrell delivered 15 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes. Long before this one got out of hand, he was sucking wind and trying to catch his breath. He was exhausted.

But he found enough in reserve to keep dropping passes to Colson in the lane for easy layups.

“We executed really well today,” Farrell said. “We wanted to be in attack mode right from the jump.”

Florida State made three of its first 13 free throws and finished 7-of-22 (31.8 percent) from the foul line.

“Our effort at the free throw line did not give us a chance to be successful,” Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Worked over on the boards the last five games – the Irish had been out-rebounded in each – the home team made more of a collective effort to get on the glass on both ends. Everyone. The result was a (+7) rebound advantage, 41-34. Florida State finished with a dizzying 54 points in the paint, but only eight of those were of the second-chance variety.

“Our players, we’re not tall in height, but we’re big in heart,” said sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. “We just work hard, fight for loose, fight for those long rebounds. It comes down to hustle.”

Gang rebounding was the trick that helped turn this one decidedly one-sided. The teams played 40 high-level, high-energy, high-stakes minutes. Notre Dame led for 36:42. Florida State? The team that came to town tied with North Carolina for first place in the ACC led for all of 100 seconds.

This one, was all Irish. It was Colson. It was Farrell. It was V.J. Beachem putting touted top-five NBA draft pick Jonathan Isaac into defensive jail. Isaac finished with only four points. It was Pflueger (seven points, two rebounds in 25 minutes) and T.J. Gibbs (five points, four rebounds, two assists in his first start) making sure to offer enough to keep the Irish “Big Four” flowing. It was as raucous a student section as Purcell Pavilion has seen in three seasons, the last two ending in runs to the Elite Eight.

And when it was just about over, it was the mild-mannered Vasturia making a steal near midcourt, eyeing the rim and throwing down his first career dunk — right-handed windmill — to put the capper on this one.

Air Vasturia?

“I expended a lot of energy on that,” he said. “I thought I was high enough and was happy it went in.”

This Irish needed a big effort in this one. They got it.

“It’s huge,” Pflueger said. “We’re clicking at the right time going into this final stretch of ACC play.”

• NOTRE DAME 84, No. 14 FLORIDA ST. 72

At Purcell Pavilion

FLORIDA ST. (21-5): Jonathan Isaac 2-6 0-0 4, Michael Ojo 1-2 0-0 2, Terence Mann 7-9 1-2 15, Xavier Rathan-Mayes 4-10 2-7 11, Dwayne Bacon 5-13 2-6 12, Phil Cofer 0-2 0-0 0, Jarquez Smith 3-5 0-0 6, Christ Koumadje 0-0 0-0 0, Trent Forrest 5-8 2-6 12, C.J. Walker 3-10 0-1 8, PJ Savoy 0-0 0-0 0, Braian Angola-Rodas 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 31-66 7-22 72.

 NOTRE DAME (19-7): Bonzie Colson 12-18 8-8 33, V.J. Beachem 3-9 1-2 9, T.J. Gibbs 0-4 5-6 5, Steve Vasturia 6-10 3-3 15, Matt Farrell 5-13 2-2 15, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 0-0 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Rex Pflueger 3-5 0-0 7. Totals 29-59 19-21 84.

Halftime--Notre Dame 40-31. 3-Point Goals--Florida St. 3-15 (Walker 2-4, Rathan-Mayes 1-4, Cofer 0-1, Isaac 0-2, Bacon 0-4), Notre Dame 7-22 (Farrell 3-8, Beachem 2-5, Pflueger 1-1, Colson 1-2, Gibbs 0-2, Vasturia 0-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Florida St. 33 (Isaac, Bacon 6), Notre Dame 36 (Colson 13). Assists--Florida St. 10 (Walker, Rathan-Mayes 3), Notre Dame 15 (Farrell 9). Total Fouls--Florida St. 19, Notre Dame 17.

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A big-time effort from junior power forward Bonzie Colson propelled Notre Dame past No. 14 Florida State. (AP Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)