Big night from Rex Pflueger gives No. 14 Notre Dame easy men's basketball win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – He may not have shot it or scored it or scratched anything close to the surface of his standard the first time out over the weekend, but that was no reason for Notre Dame junior guard Rex Pflueger to hang his head.

New week. New opportunity to do more after he went for three points and a career-high nine rebounds in Saturday’s win over DePaul. Pflueger would be ready for the next chance barely 48 hours later. Boy, was he ever.

With his penchant to consistently play defense his first two seasons, Pflueger earned the moniker “D-Rex.” Following Monday’s performance in an 88-62 victory over Mount St. Mary’s at Purcell Pavilion, a new nickname may be in the cards for the Southern California kid.

D-D-Rex.

As in double double.

Again working with the toughest defensive assignment for a second-straight game, Pflueger had everything else about his fall into place. He scored a career-high 13 points. He grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. He registered his first-ever college double double. He also flirted however slightly with a triple double in finishing with five assists. Might as well throw in a pair of blocked shots with no turnovers in 33 efficient minutes.

“As long as I affect the game in every way possible, I’m happy with my performance,” Pflueger said. “You can’t get down on your previous performance and you can’t get too high on your previous performance. You’ve got to move on to the next game.

“I just take every game as a new game and a new opportunity to perform.”

And to think that some even wondered following Saturday’s game, when Pflueger was required to chase 3-point sniper Max Strus from sideline to sideline and around screen after screen after screen before limiting him to 3-of-13 from the field, if Pflueger’s minutes and subsequent shots might be best suited for someone else, like, say, freshman D.J. Harvey.

Seriously?

Harvey’s time will come.

This is Pflueger’s.

He made the most of it, and take another step as a veteran player by ignoring what he might not have done back in Chicago and would he could do at home in the regional round of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

That would be a little bit of everything. Oftentimes, a lot. After guarding Strus on Saturday, the 6-foot-6 Pflueger was assigned to 5-5 point guard Junior Robinson, a first team All-Northeast Conference selection. Robinson finished with 14 points, but made just six of his 15 shots and turned it over five times.

Afterward in the locker room, Mike Brey singled out Pflueger and told his starting point guards, Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs, to buy him dinner for all the dirty work he did.

“He’s such a winner; he does whatever it takes,” Brey said of Pflueger. “He’s an ace in the hole and he can guard anybody on that perimeter.”

While Pflueger’s double-double work was a surprise, it’s become expected from senior power forward Bonzie Colson. He delivered another one Monday, the 25th of his career with game-highs for points (27) and rebounds (11).

Second halves have been quite kind to the Irish two games in. Like it did the previous game out against DePaul, No. 14 Notre Dame found an extra gear early in the final 20 minutes to give itself a little breathing room. Make that a lot.

Leading by eight over the Mount, the Irish scored the first 14 points of the second half to balloon a lead that would reach as high as 29 to 22. Notre Dame scored 48 points, shot 62.5 percent from the field and connected on both its 3-pointers and all six of its free throws in the second half.

“First halves are overrated,” Brey said, only half-joking. “Sometimes you play the first half to get to the second half. As long as you’re not down 20. I love that both games we really got going.”

Defensively, Notre Dame delivered 10-straight stops to start the second half. That’s pretty good.

“When we come in at half, we settle down; everybody’s talking; everybody’s communicating, really focused,” said Colson, who also took the time between halves to get stretched out on the baseline and at the same time eat a banana, which he hoped would keep him from cramping up (it did). “We want to focus on getting stops.”

Mount St. Mary’s shot 37.5 percent from the field, 27.8 percent from 3 in the second half.

The Irish also made it a point of offensive emphasis to get the ball into the paint. Early. Often. After finishing with 16 paint points against a larger DePaul team, Notre Dame used its height advantage around the rim to its advantage on Monday to finish with 44.

"We felt we could beat them up inside," Brey said. "If they're going to play Bonzie with one guy (they did), we're going to keep throwing it in there."

They did.

“Every game is different,” Colson said. “Once we realize that, it’s an easy game to play.”

Hanging near the rafters of Purcell Pavilion, just above the Section 3 seating section, now resides a large white and blue and gold banner with the number of wins for Brey as he closes in on the school’s all-time record.

It’s the school’s way of counting down Brey’s wins - #BreyChase - as he closes in on the mark of former Irish coach Digger Phelps. That number prior to Monday’s game against Mount St. Mary’s stood at 383. Just before 9 p.m., that number flipped to 384 – 10 away from the program record.

“That’s cool,” Brey said. “Man, that’s more pressure. I can’t believe I’ve been here 18 years and you have the chance to be the all-time winningest coach.”

Notre Dame trailed – for all of 84 seconds – for the first time this season late in the first half before throwing together scoring runs of 11-0 and 7-0. Both spurts were fueled by defense and ball movement and not settling for shots. The same formula busted open Saturday’s opener at DePaul.

The Irish ran their win streak in home openers under Brey to 18 – all of them. It was home opener win No. 19 in a row for Notre Dame, which last lost at home to start a season in 1998 against Miami (Ohio).

Less than a week after signing a consensus Top 12 recruiting class, Notre Dame added a fifth name to that group Monday night with the commitment of power forward Chris Doherty, a 6-foot-7 senior at Marlborough (Mass.) High School. Considered a three-star recruit, Doherty, who visited campus the weekend of Nov. 3, is expected to go on the five-year plan.

Doherty’s AAU team, the New England Playaz, announced his commitment minutes before Monday’s game tipped.

Notre Dame junior guard Rex Pflueger did a little of everything during Monday's victory over Mount St. Mary's at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin)

NOTRE DAME 88, MOUNT ST. MARY’S 62

At South Bend

MOUNT ST. MARY’S (62): Bobby Planutis 4-9 0-0 11, Ryan Gomes 2-4 2-2 6, Junior Robinson 6-15 0-0 14, Jonah Antonio 3-11 0-0 9, Donal Carey 3-7 0-0 7, Ace Stallings 0-0 0-0 0, Omar Habwe 3-61-2 8, Brandon Leftwich 0-0 0-0 0, Greg Alexander 3-9 0-0 7. TOTALS: 24-61 3-4 62

NOTRE DAME (88): Martinas Geben 4-5 1-1 9, Bonzie Colson 11-15 4-4 27, Rex Pflueger 3-8 7-8 13, Matt Farrell 5-15 1-1 13, TJ Gibbs 3-8 3-3 9, DJ Harvey 3-5 0-0 6, Elijah Burns 2-4 2-2 7, Nikola Djogo 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, Liam Nelligan 0-0 0-0 0, John Mooney 2-3 0-0 4. TOTALS: 33-63 18-19 88

3-point: ND 4-12 (Colson 1-1, Farrell 2-6, Gibbs 0-2, Harvey 0-1, Burns 1-1, Mooney 0-1): Mount St. Mary’s 11-35 (Planutis 3-6, Robinson 2-6, Antonio 3-10, Carey 1-4, Habwe 1-2, Alexander 1-7); Rebounds: ND 39 (Colson 11, Pflueger 10), Mount St. Mary’s 29 (Planutis 7).