Monday, November 21, 2016

Notre Dame outlasts Colorado in return to Brooklyn

Bonzie Colson's 22 points and 12 rebounds led Notre Dame past Colorado, even as Buffaloes threatened to erase 18-point deficit. (Photo by University of Notre Dame Athletics)

BROOKLYN -- In its first two games at Barclays Center, Notre Dame saw each one go to the wire before coming away victorious. With an 18-point lead late in the first half Monday, forgive Fighting Irish fans for perhaps assuming this would be a comfortable win.

But as the immortal Ringo Starr so famously sang, "it don't come easy."

Fighting a sluggish shooting performance after going into halftime with a 50-35 lead, coupled with a late surge by Colorado to make what had been a somewhat dull game interesting down the stretch, Notre Dame had just enough to pull together and salvage an 89-83 decision over the Buffaloes to advance to the championship of the Legends Classic.

"It's just a heck of a win for this group," said Mike Brey after the Irish (4-0) secured a date with either Texas or Northwestern Tuesday evening. "We're trying to establish our own identity. I love how we got off to a great start and how we were really flowing offensively. In the second half, Colorado really guarded us, and we had to find different ways to play. I'm proud of how we held people off."

Following a first half that felt similar to their NCAA Tournament victories against Michigan and Stephen F. Austin last March, as the Irish shot 55 percent from the floor in the opening stanza, (they shot 58 and 57 percent, respectively, in Brooklyn last season) Colorado's defense held Notre Dame to just 30 percent and 10 field goals over the final 20 minutes. Regardless, it was a familiarity with the venue they used as a springboard to a second consecutive regional final appearance that was instrumental in helping them pull through.

"I was talking us into the karma still being here the last two weeks," Brey quipped. "We're comfortable in this building. There's no question the familiarity and the memories, we were in the same locker room, all was good stuff."

Four players reached double figures in scoring, led by Bonzie Colson's 22-point, 12-rebound double-double. Matt Farrell added 20 points and six assists, while V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia tallied 17 apiece. Xavier Johnson topped Colorado (3-1) with 23 points in the losing effort.

"I just wanted to stay composed and stay focused," Colson said of his production. "I was making sure I attacked the glass on both sides, and like Coach said, that was something he emphasized. I think, as a collective unit, we did really well in that."

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