Noie: Unusual basketball afternoon sees Mike Brey, Bonzie Colson ejected as No. 5 Notre Dame rolls to win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Nobody saw this level of weirdness in the works. Not on this day. Against this opponent.

The way No. 5 Notre Dame had it figured, it was on track for a steady and solid bounce-back effort of basketball against an overmatched St. Francis Brooklyn team that might make it interesting for a half. But that was one bizarre afternoon of basketball, one Notre Dame (7-1) won 71-53. Few may remember the final score.

The day started with Notre Dame looking to rebound from Thursday’s 18-point pounding at No. 3 Michigan State. The day ended with Mike Brey, now five wins away from becoming the winningest coach in program history, in the locker room after his first-ever ejection following over 720 career games coached.

In between? Pick a word to describe it — awful, ugly, unwatchable? They'd all fit.

“Wow, that’s an interesting afternoon in Purcell Pavilion, right?” Brey said. “I wish maybe I was a little calmer, but in hindsight, I certainly can’t have my guy sitting in the locker room all by himself.”

That guy is Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year Bonzie Colson. Minutes before the head coach left, Colson was tossed after committing an offensive foul, deemed a Flagrant Two infraction, which carries the automatic ejection.

How did Brey and Colson spend the final 6:02 back in the locker room? Like anyone else who wanted to see a game not broadcast on television. They watched on Colson’s cell phone.

“That’s new territory for me,” Brey said. “That was very unusual.”

It was Colson’s first-ever ejection, and the first time an Irish player has been ejected since 2013.

“Just gotta be better than that,” Colson said. “A learning experience for me. Guys are going to try and come after you when you have the ball. Just gotta be strong with it.

“We got the win. That’s all that matters.”

On a day when Notre Dame wanted to be, hoped to be and planned to be a whole lot better than it was the last time out, it never really was. The slog had some nice moments — a 21-3 scoring burst that bust this one open in the first half and a solid effort from senior Martinas Geben.

Registering his first double double, Geben set career highs for points (14) and rebounds (10) in a season-high 27 minutes, 60 seconds shy of his previous best. In a game where a lot about the Irish was unstable, Geben offered some stability. Really has been so steady all season.

“All the hard work, all the prayers, everything’s paying off,” Geben said. “My teammates and my coaches are trusting me. If I can play well and the team wins, that’s going to make me happy. It’s going to make everybody happy.”

With the quality of play disintegrating throughout the second half, everything fell apart with just over six minutes remaining and the Irish up by 19. That’s when Colson caught St. Francis freshman guard Jalen Jordan with an elbow to the face on an Irish possession. After reviewing the play, a veteran officiating crew of James Breeding, Brian O’Connell and Brent Hampton assessed a Flagrant Two foul on Colson. His day done after 13 points and nine rebounds, Colson headed off the floor alone.

Minutes later, he was joined by the self-described “loosest coach in America” whose rep would take a hit. He might have to go back to the shorts and T-shirt look he sported in Maui to get some of that back. He was really loose then. He was really hot Sunday.

There have been occasions throughout Brey’s tenure when he’s wanted to be thrown out. Practically begged to be run out. Happened a couple years ago early in a game at Pittsburgh when Notre Dame was awful. Brey couldn’t get tossed that night, and the Irish eventually came back to win. He wasn’t trying to get ejected Sunday after Colson’s flagrant. But the more he thought about it, the more he barreled toward a point of no return.

That arrived after the officials couldn’t figure out where to inbound the ball after the two free throws. That didn’t sit well with Brey.

“I started to get a little frustrated,” he said.

The frustration had been festering. Brey wasn’t happy about the Colson flagrant, and was worried that his best player might miss part of Tuesday's game against Ball State. He won’t. Brey also told Breeding that he believed the crew had missed a St. Francis foul on Colson before he committed his. Breeding, Brey said, agreed. The more Brey thought about that confession, the more he stewed.

“That was kind of sticking in my craw a little bit and I just got a little hot-tempered,” he said.

Hampton handed Brey his first technical. Breeding bounced him with the second.

“I deserved it,” he said. “Little too much drama. It was an unusual afternoon.”

Part of that, Brey said, falls on the officials. The three veterans have done their share of high-level games in the ACC. None of them are bothered by the bright lights. That, Brey said, might have been the issue.

“The three officials probably thought it was going to be a Sunday afternoon glide,” he said. “It got a little interesting, then they’re trying to play catchup. All those guys are really good officials, too.”

Long before 31 total fouls and four technicals were called, it was as ugly a second-half effort for the Irish as they’ve had all year. Totally thrown off their game by the grabbing and the bumping, the Irish shot 27.6 percent (8-of-29) and 14.3 percent (1-of-7) from 3. Adding to the weirdness of their work was junior guard Rex Pflueger missing a breakaway layup after short-arming the shot at the front of the rim and Matt Farrell, who saw his streak of 31-straight games with at least one 3-pointer – longest of any ACC player — snapped after going 0-for-8. Almost all of those were open looks that Farrell usually buries.

“We weren’t very good offensively,” Brey said.

Once Brey exited, associate head coach Rod Balanis took over. His best move may have come with 2:49 remaining when he subbed out the rest of the Irish main guys for the reserves. The nonsense had finally ceased.

This one couldn’t end soon enough.

ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN (2-6): Milija Cosic 3-7 2-2 8, Josh Nurse 2-3 0-0 4, Glenn Sanabria 1-5 0-0 3, Chauncey Hawkins 0-6 0-0 0, Jalen Jordan 3-7 1-2 10, Jagos Lasic 1-2 0-0 3, Yaradyah Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Darelle Porter 2-7 5-6 10, Keon Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Cori Johnson 0-1 1-2 1, Josh Nicholas 1-4 0-0 2, Rasheem Dunn 5-13 0-0 10, Gunnar Olafsson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-60 9-12 53.

NOTRE DAME (7-1): Bonzie Colson 5-11 3-4 13, Martinas Geben 4-6 6-6 14, Rex Pflueger 4-9 0-2 8, Matt Farrell 4-14 4-6 12, T.J. Gibbs 3-7 2-5 10, Elijah Burns 1-1 0-0 2, Matt Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, John Mooney 1-2 0-0 2, Nikola Djogo 0-1 0-0 0, DJ Harvey 2-6 5-6 10. Totals 24-58 20-29 71.

Halftime_Notre Dame 43-25. 3-Point Goals_St. Francis Brooklyn 6-23 (Jordan 3-6, Lasic 1-1, Porter 1-2, Sanabria 1-4, Evans 0-1, Nicholas 0-1, Williams 0-1, Dunn 0-2, Cosic 0-2, Hawkins 0-3), Notre Dame 3-14 (Gibbs 2-3, Harvey 1-2, Pflueger 0-1, Farrell 0-8). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_St. Francis Brooklyn 37 (Cosic 8), Notre Dame 41 (Geben 10). Assists_St. Francis Brooklyn 10 (Sanabria 4), Notre Dame 10 (Farrell 4). Total Fouls_St. Francis Brooklyn 21, Notre Dame 12. Technicals_Porter, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey 2, Farrell. Ejected_Colson, null. A_8,911 (9,149).

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Notre Dame coach Mike Brey yells at officials during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Brey was ejected. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)