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Noie: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame scrap any storybook basketball storyline for Bethel College

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – There was no caravan of cars trailing the team bus as it made its way to the game, no measuring the distance from basketball rim to floor by the first-year head coach, no subplots to go with the main storyline.

No watching the paint dry, and no Jimmy Chitwood connecting on the final shot to beat the buzzer and win this one for the decided underdogs.

Friday’s basketball exhibition between No. 14 Notre Dame and Bethel College, its neighbor over in Mishawaka, had the markings of a 2017 version of “Hoosiers” – an NAIA school gets a big chance against a nationally-ranked Division I program in front a spirited and sold-out house.

Only in Indiana, sans the storybook ending.

Still, this wasn’t your normal exhibition for a ranked Division I team where they put it on cruise control before halftime. They were challenged longer than expected by a program that’s no stranger to success. Championship success.

But the Irish were too deep, too talented, too good and had too much of Bonzie Colson for a Bethel team playing its third game in five days. Colson scored 19 points with 11 rebounds to lead Notre Dame to an 88-59 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

“They were hard to deal with, man,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They kept coming at you and running their stuff and to have a full building and have to fight through some stuff, you had to figure out different ways to score.

“Real games are going to be like that.”

The Irish led by as many as 33 and trailed for only 3:18, all of that within the first four minutes.

Barely seven minutes in, Colson was pounding his chest and barking to himself, never a good sign for the guys on the other side. After a relatively quiet exhibition opener, Colson returned to his blue-collar ways.

”I didn’t expect him to be as strong as he is,” said Bethel big man and LaPorte native Gage Ott. “He’s strong and he can bang.”

Bethel crept as close as nine with 11:25 remaining.

“I definitely feel like we proved something,” Ott said. “We came in talking about not having anything to lose. It was to come out, prove something and get some respect out here and I think we did that.”

Separated by five miles, the programs are no strangers to one another. Under Hall of Fame coach Mike Lightfoot, who was in attendance behind the Pilot bench and had to buy a ticket to watch a Bethel game for the first time ever, the teams' coaches often attended Irish practices. The staffs still trade notes on different offense and defensive tendencies. But their teams never played.

Until Friday.

Neither side really pushed for it until recently.

This game had a lot of buzz from the Bethel side since being finalized back in the summer. So much so that Ryne Lightfoot, the 31-year-old coach in his first season after taking over for his father, had trouble getting four tickets for some of his BC buddies. One ticket web site offered four 100-level tickets last week for the low, low price of $1,000.

That likely was someone trying to have some fun with the demand, but the fact that ticket sites required viewing illustrated how much area fans wanted to see this one.

Listed as a sellout, the first for an Irish exhibition since 1985, Friday’s game still saw pockets of empty seats. But there was a lot of juice in the building. A lot more for an exhibition than maybe ever. That included bunch of Bethel blue, which got really rowdy when the visitors jumped to a 7-2 lead.

“They definitely came out really intense,” said Irish sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs, who finished with 18 points, including 10-of-10 from the foul line. “We realized that this is just like the ACC. We’re going to have some atmospheres like that.

“They matched our atmosphere here. It was crazy to see how many fans they have.”

This one had an early-February feel to it in early November. That’s what happens when neighbors finally get together, and do it on a football weekend.

The big crowd included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a semi-regular at Irish games who was in the third row behind the home team bench with his Notre Dame sweatshirt and low-cut Under Armour sneaks. Also, over 50 former Irish players and managers were across the way in Section 7 as part of the program’s reunion weekend.

One former Irish not in the stands with his former teammates, but instead on the bench in a suit and tie, was LaPhonso Ellis, in his first year as a Bethel assistant.

If there is an area of growing concern early in exhibition play for the Irish, it’s one that often didn’t cause Brey many restless nights over the last, oh, decade.

That would be perimeter shooting.

After going 3-for-17 from behind the 3-point arc in the exhibition opener against Holy Cross last month, Notre Dame returned to go 2-of-20. After missing one open 3 early, Matt Farrell raised his hands to the roof as if to wonder what he needed to get a bucket. After missing another 3 early in the second half, Farrell just gave a look to the bench that said, just not the Irish night from distance.

“I don’t know if we’ll shoot it out there like some of the other (Irish) teams every night,” Brey said. “We gotta figure out ways where we can to score. Throwing it into the post is going to be very important to us more than ever before.”

In addition to the lack of perimeter success, Notre Dame was way too leaky and loose on the defensive end. Whether it be switching, guarding the pick and roll or making it way too easy for the Pilots to get good looks early, the Irish had a few issues. Bethel shot 42.9 percent from the floor in the first half, the second half and for the game.

“We definitely have some stuff to work on,” Gibbs said.

They have seven more days before the real stuff starts.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI