Rex Pflueger shoots and scores as Notre Dame men win easy one to end non-conference play
SOUTH BEND — Cries from all corners of Purcell Pavilion – a pretty nifty trick given its round seating configuration – now cascade over the court like clockwork.
Every time Notre Dame junior guard Rex Pflueger has touched the ball the last two games in any sort of triple-threat situation, it starts. From the two women in the front row behind the east basket. From the guys behind the scorer’s table. From fans seated all the way over on the other end. All have the same advice for Pflueger.
Shoot the ball!
Shoot it Rex!
For myriad reasons throughout a chunk of the first 12 non-conference games, Pflueger has rarely followed through the advice. Maybe he didn’t feel too comfortable in his spot on the floor. Or confident in his shot. Often times, he’s trying to find a second and third wind after using much of his first chasing the other team’s best perimeter threat around the court.
But for this team to get to where it needs to go the final two-plus months of the regular season, Pflueger’s got to shoot it. More. Now. On Thursday, he did. And it was different.
Pflueger attempted a career-high 10 shots. That helped him deliver a career-high 17 points as Notre Dame (9-3) closed out non-conference play with an 86-50 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.
“We want him to take open shots and make plays,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Heck of a night for him. He’s a weapon for us. He is such a winner.”
Afterward, Pflueger admitted to being so locked in with a laser-like focus on his to-do list – guard, rebound, move the ball, maybe make a shot – that he didn’t even notice the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Bonzie Colson, missed seven minutes while having a bloodied nose tended to in the trainer’s room.
Pflueger did hear the yells for him to shoot the ball anytime the leather Wilson ball landed in his lap.
“I felt a little more confident out there,” Pflueger said. “Just hearing it from the whole community, it’s very positive for me, gives me the confident to go out there and shoot.
“I hear it from everybody. That’s kind of like the memo for me to shoot the ball.”
Pflueger wasn’t alone with his efficient work from the guard spot. Sophomore T.J. Gibbs delivered a little of everything. He scored a game-high 18 points and set career highs for rebounds (five), assists (five) and steals (four).
“Just feed off my teammates was the biggest part,” Gibbs said. “Just seeing what I can to help them. I got some open shots and was able to knock a couple down.”
Senior captain Matt Farrell added 17 points and two assists. The three outscored the entire opposition, 52-50. And then there was Colson, who delivered the 31st double double of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Notre Dame never trailed, scored 49 points on 51.4 percent shooting in the second half and led by as many as 38.
“It was neat to see all three of our guards in rhythm,” Brey said. “It was good to see those three guards all get rolling together.”
When it was over, a college basketball season that Notre Dame has come to know it effectively ended Thursday at 8:40 p.m. That’s when the horn sounded to close the curtain on a 13-game non-conference slate that had the Irish play seven away from home.
The Atlantic Coast Conference grind awaits, but that non-league was a grind in itself. A lot of travel. A lot of bus rides. A lot of time together. A lot of tough games. And tougher nights with losses to Ball State and Indiana. The holidayt break comes at a good time. For the players. For the coaches. For everyone.
“Everybody needs a break from everybody,” Brey said. “We’re like a little bit of an old married couple. We need a little bit of a break. Everybody go home.”
Brey moved within two wins of becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach. Brey has 392 career wins.
Seven unanswered points in 91 seconds, including a wing 3 from Pflueger to tie his previous career high of 15, and a Farrell-Martinas Geben connection off a screen and roll saw the Irish open a 15-point lead less than four minutes into the second half.
And that was pretty much that. Notre Dame was done messing around. No more allowing teams to crawl back into it with unanswered runs. The light bulb seemingly finally turned on. And stayed on.
Notre Dame delivered a 20-2 run, including 18 unanswered, over a 5:23 stretch to get the heavy lifting out of the way early.
Coming off a career-high 37 points with 11 rebounds two nights earlier, Colson got off to another solid start with seven points and three rebounds in eight minutes. But he then spent a long stretch in the trainer’s room for a bloody nose. A lead that had ballooned to 13 points had been sliced to eight when Irish assistant Ryan Humphrey turned down toward the end of the bench and called for someone to go get Colson, who was still being treated. Minutes later, Colson emerged from the tunnel that leads from the trainer’s room, bypassed the bench and headed right for the scorer’s table to check back in.
Pflueger didn’t realize he’d been gone that long. Or at all.
"And then he came in with a little thing in his nose and it was, 'Oh, you good?'" Pflueger said. "We're so in tune to the game we're focused on the task at hand."
Colson missed seven minutes. He didn’t score the rest of a half when the Irish never trailed and led by as many as 13.
Among Thursday’s officials was ACC veteran James Breeding, who worked the Dec. 3 home game against Saint Francis Brooklyn. Breeding was the one who ejected Brey late in the second half of an otherwise ugly game. It was Brey’s first career ejection.
Referee and head coach shared a quick laugh about the previous meeting before the tip.
Notre Dame was without the services of sophomore guard Nikola Djogo, who didn’t dress in uniform because of an illness. Djogo was not cleared by team doctors before the game. Wearing street clothes, Djogo still took his usual spot to greet the Irish starters during player introductions.
The Irish get most of the next five days off for Christmas. Brey’s standard rule still stands – no pickup games for the players with their buddies back at their respective high schools and absolutely no one-on-one. The Irish will report back Tuesday evening for practice and preparation of the ACC opener, which arrives Dec. 30 at home against Georgia Tech.
Brey admitted late Thursday that the Irish aren’t ready for league play just yet, but also will get three days of really good practice to get there. There’s no choice.
“It’s good to go home,” Gibbs said, “but I can’t wait to get back with my (Notre Dame) brothers.”
NOTRE DAME 86, SE LOUISIANA 50
At Purcell Pavilion
SE LOUISIANA (6-7): James Currington 3-10 0-0 6, Jordan Capps 7-15 2-4 17, Joshua Filmore 1-8 0-0 2, Marlain Veal 2-7 0-0 6, Jabbar Singleton 0-2 0-0 0, Brandon Gonzalez 0-0 0-0 0, Moses Greenwood 4-7 0-2 8, Keith Charleston 1-7 2-4 4, Quinton Thomas 0-2 1-2 1, Eddy Polanco 2-9 0-0 6. Totals 20-67 5-12 50.
NOTRE DAME (10-3): Martinas Geben 2-6 2-2 6, Bonzie Colson 6-13 2-2 16, T.J. Gibbs 6-14 6-6 18, Matt Farrell 6-10 3-4 17, Rex Pflueger 5-10 4-4 17, Elijah Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Torres 2-3 0-0 4, Matt Gregory 0-1 0-0 0, John Mooney 1-4 1-2 3, Liam Nelligan 1-1 0-0 2, D.J. Harvey 1-7 1-2 3. Totals 30-69 19-22 86.
Halftime--Notre Dame 37-29. 3-Point Goals--SE Louisiana 5-20 (Veal 2-3, Polanco 2-6, Capps 1-2, Charleston 0-1, Thomas 0-1, Singleton 0-1, Filmore 0-6), Notre Dame 7-26 (Pflueger 3-6, Colson 2-4, Farrell 2-6, Mooney 0-1, Harvey 0-3, Gibbs 0-6). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--SE Louisiana 40 (Veal 7), Notre Dame 47 (Geben, Colson 10). Assists--SE Louisiana 15 (Veal 4), Notre Dame 11 (Gibbs 5). Total Fouls--SE Louisiana 11, Notre Dame 8. A--7,134 (9,149).