New-look Notre Dame delivers record-setting win No. 394 for Mike Brey

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – He walked in the back door of Purcell Pavilion on a hot July afternoon nearly 18 years ago hoping to win enough games to stay a decade without worrying about being fired.

He walked out the back door of Purcell Pavilion on a cold, snowy January night Wednesday having won more games than any coach in Notre Dame men’s basketball history.

Not a bad run for Mike Brey, who won game No. 394 at Notre Dame after a revamped rotation ran away with an 88-58 win over North Carolina State.

It was Notre Dame's largest margin of victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play. And without two of its senior captains. its leaders. its best players.

"What a way to get there; what a way to get to 394 and 2-0 (in the Atlantic Coast Conference)," Brey said. "When i think back and think about the record-breaking game, I'll think about we lost Bonzie Colson the day before (to a foot injury). We lost Matt Farrell halfway through the game (to an ankle injury) and our group just really responded.

"Couldn't be prouder of a group."

Brey was recognized at midcourt after the game for No. 394, but only one number really mattered to him – two. The win moves the Irish to 12-3 overall and 2-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference for the third time in five seasons.

Brey broke the record of former Irish coach Digger Phelps, who was in his usual front-row baseline seat. Phelps presented the game ball to Brey afterward. It took 590 games over 20 years in South Bend for him to get to 393. Brey got to 394 wins in 584 games over his 18 seasons.

"It's an incredible achievement, knowing all the great teams he's had in the past, great players," said junior guard Rex Pflueger, who scored 16 points with four rebounds and four assists after being named a team captain earlier in the day. "It's an honor to be a part of this team. This is a lifelong memory not only for him but for everyone on this team."

Notre Dame led by as many as 30, a lot of that after North Carolina State opened 0-for-12 from the field to start the second half. With nine minutes gone, the Wolfpack had scored only two points since the halftime break.

"I am glad we got 394 off the board," Brey said. "We can keep chasing some ACC stuff now."

Brey eventually will get to win No. 400 at Notre Dame and 500 overall. But he was happy to get this one over with and get on to figuring out how to keep this season a success having been handed bad news the previous day.

With Colson scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday for a fractured left foot, there was some doubt – OK, a lot of it – how the Irish would respond. But there was little doubt about the outcome of this one.

It got to be so one-sided that Brey even broke into an early celebration dance - while sitting down - with just under three minutes remaining when he was shown on the overhead video board.

Notre Dame started small, got out in transition, shot a lot of 3-pointers, made a lot and ran up 48 first-half points. That’s good for second most all season. The Irish led by as many as 15 and were seldom challenged. Not even after Farrell hobbled back to the locker room with a sprained ankle with five minutes remaining. He returned for warm-ups at intermission, took one shot, shook his head and hobbled to the bench. He got up a few minutes later, took two more shots and returned to the bench, where Brey consoled him.

Farrell is questionable - and likely doubtful - for Saturday's game at Syracuse. The ankle's just too sore. He might be back next week for the rematch with Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

"It's one of those that I don't think will be ready for Saturday," Brey said.

Sophomore John Mooney started the second half for the first time in his career.

Irish freshman D.J. Harvey made his first career start and looked an entirely different player than the one who struggled to figure it out the first two months. He connected on his first shot – a 3 – and rolled up a game-high 13 points in the first half. He finished with a career-high 17 in 30 minutes, also a career best.

The Irish finished with a season high 20 assists.

"We had some guys really deliver tonight," Brey said.

On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced that Colson would miss at least eight weeks with a fractured left foot.

Early arrivals – really early arrivals – to Wednesday’s late game would have spied Colson shooting free throws on one of the arena’s baskets. He worked, and walked, without a limp, without a walking boot, without seemingly any sign that he’s set for possible season-ending surgery on a broken bone in his left foot.

Colson suffered the injury during Friday’s practice – one day before the conference opener against Georgia Tech. He played all but 60 seconds in what might be his final game in an Irish uniform.

"College basketball lost a great story," Brey said.

Colson is expected to miss eight weeks, which would put his possible return during the final few days of the regular season. Where will the Irish be at that point? Will they have an outside shot of earning a fourth-straight NCAA tournament bid or be treading ACC waters mired somewhere in the middle of the 15-team league?

That likely will factor into whether Colson returns to help late or keeps it shut down in preparation for NBA auditions in the spring.

"We," Brey said, "will never rush this guy back."

Brey utilized nine guys in a first half rotation that saw him use eight different lineup combinations – some of them for the first time this season. With Colson and Farrell both as spectators Wednesday, it led to some different looks.

Colson and Farrell spent the second half coaching their teammates and coaxing the fans to make some noise. Both areas delivered.

Notre Dame will return to a place it knows well – the road – for its next two league game starting Saturday at Syracuse, where it has lost its last five. It’s the first league road game for the Irish, who played seven times away from home in non-conference play.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey gives a thumbs up to his team during the NC State at Notre Dame NCAA men's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Tribune photo/MICHAEL CATERINA