Notes: Everything aligned for Steve Vasturia to deliver first Notre Dame dunk

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

It never before happened.

Not in a game.

Not in a warmups when guys are now allowed to do as they please around the rim.

Not in the three-man weave drill that Notre Dame runs every day in practice.

Probably not even when he’s in the gym late at night working on his game with not a soul around.

Irish senior captain Steve Vasturia had played over 4,000 career minutes across 126 games during his four seasons and never did what he did in the closing minute of Saturday’s 84-72 victory over No. 14 Florida State.

Everything was aligned — the stars, the moon, the time on the clock, the score, the energy in Purcell Pavilion — for Vasturia to debut his dunking skills. First, he squelched what was shaping up to be a five-on-two Seminole fast break with a steal near midcourt. Nobody in black and garnet and gold remained between him and the basket.

This finally was going to be it.

Vasturia took a few dribbles to measure his steps properly. He shifted the final bounce of the ball from his right to left hand to get his balance right. He then took off and hammered a right-handed dunk through the net for the first time in his collegiate career.

“I knew he had it,” former Irish teammate Pat Connaughton said in a text message to the Tribune late Saturday.

As for Vasturia? Not so much.

“A lot of doubt,” Vasturia said afterward. “It takes a lot of energy for me to get up and dunk. I usually lay it up. I had a breakaway, I figured, let’s just end it on a good note.”

Had sophomore guard Rex Pflueger followed through on his long-standing promise, the Irish would have finished out the final 45 seconds with only four players on the floor.

“I’ve been telling him if he dunks it, I’m going to run off the court,” said Pflueger, who instead offered his own mini-celebration/pose under the basket. “I was so excited when he dunked it, man.”

Same goes for everyone on the Irish bench, which exploded in celebration.  Even strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski showed some emotion. Coach Mike Brey had to put his hand over his mouth to conceal a grin. Then he looked down toward the Florida State bench.

“I think Leonard Hamilton was even laughing,” Brey said.

Usually so stoic when he’s on the floor, Vasturia allowed himself a wide smile running down the floor before being rushed by teammate Bonzie Colson. His review of his first-ever dunk?

“That was pretty nice, I thought,” Vasturia said.

Dominant duo

With the floor spread against Florida State and driving lanes opening for Irish guard Matt Farrell, he had one thought as the home team was about to bust it wide open in Saturday’s second half.

Find Colson.

An Irish lead that was at 14 jumped quickly to 18 after Farrell twice probed the interior of the Seminole defense and slipped sweet passes to Colson, who finished both times right at the rim.

“Playing with him is so much fun,” said Farrell, who finished with nine assists, one shy of tying his career high. “If he’s open, you better believe I’m going to throw it to him. I don’t know how he finishes some of them, but he finishes.

“Just an awesome guy to play with.”

Farrell was really good in last week’s two-game win streak. He averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 assists with only six total turnovers while working as the main handler in both ACC games.

“He is so confident with this smaller lineup,” Brey said. “The floor is open more and he can get in there to make plays. He’s having a lot of fun.”

Seven-for-seven

How does Notre Dame’s near-miss against Kentucky in the 2015 NCAA Midwest Regional championship factor into Saturday’s win?

Thanks to Notre Dame men’s basketball sports information director Alan Wasielewski, it does.

The box score shows that seven Irish played that night at Quicken Loans Arena. Wasielewski noted earlier in the week that when Colson eclipsed the 1,000 career point plateau, all seven of those Irish who played that night in downtown Cleveland will have scored at least 1,000 career points.

Now they have after Colson scored a career-high 33 points to give him 1,013. He joins a 1,000-point club that includes Zach Auguste (1,275), Jerian Grant (1,739), Connaughton (1,465), Vasturia (1,293), Demetrius Jackson (1,204) and V.J. Beachem (1,081).

 Marching orders

It’s become a day-of-game guessing game as to who might be the fifth Irish starter.

Against Duke, it was Martinas Geben. Against North Carolina, it was Austin Torres. Against Wake Forest, it was Pflueger. Against Florida State, it was freshman T.J. Gibbs, who made his first career start.

Who knows who it’s going to be Tuesday at Boston College (9-17; 2-11 ACC). Brey does know that whoever it is, the instruction is pretty simple – fit in with Beachem and Colson and Farrell and Vasturia.

“Your role should be, don’t screw up the Big Four, learn how to play with them,” Brey said. “It’s a real simple rule. The Big Four are in a good rhythm.

“The way we’re playing on the offensive end is helping the four most important guys.”

Since deciding to go small for large doses starting in the Feb. 5 loss to North Carolina, Notre Dame (19-7; 8-5) has averaged 82.6 points the last three games after averaging 62.6 the previous three league losses. And the Big Four of Beachem, Colson, Farrell and Vasturia have combined to average 71.6 points.

Numbers game

Notre Dame’s victory over No. 14 Florida State bumped its conference strength of schedule to No. 1 in the country according to the latest numbers by ESPN.com. The Irish have a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 25 and an overall strength of schedule of 23 heading into the final five games of the regular season.

Those solid stats may take a bit of a hit. Of the five remaining games, four are against teams Boston College (2), Georgia Tech and North Carolina State with losing league records. Boston College has an RPI of 198, Georgia Tech is at 76 and North Carolina State 96.

The only game against a team above Notre Dame in the standings surfaces March 4 when it closes the regular season at No. 4 Louisville, which has a current RPI of 4 and a 2 SOS.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI