On tonight's broadcast, LaPhonso Ellis was pretty insistent on how on edge Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1, 1-0) head coach Mike Brey was heading into the first ACC game of the season. Brey, understandably, still felt some urgency to shake off last season's ACC performance, but his Irish showed him just how different they are from last year's squad with a decisive 83-63 victory over the Florida State Seminoles (4-5, 0-1).
Zach Auguste was the story and the highlight reel in this one, going off for a career-high 26 points, including plenty of highlight reel dunks, including one at the end of the first half that I feel comfortable claiming effectively ended the game. Auguste did all this against a team that worried Irish fans with its three 7-footers ready to exploit Notre Dame's biggest weakness on the interior.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>That's dirty Z.A., just dirty. (<a href="https://twitter.com/ZachEliAuguste">@ZachEliAuguste</a>) Watch his buzzer-beating dunk:<a href="https://t.co/kplcPl0Vni">https://t.co/kplcPl0Vni</a></p>— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) <a href="https://twitter.com/NDmbb/status/543953014428815361">December 14, 2014</a></blockquote>
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But the Irish would have none of that, led by an unstoppable Auguste on offense and by Pat Connaughton on a respectable rebounding attack that only lost the rebounding margin to one of the tallest teams in the ACC by one.
Not to be outdone, Notre Dame's stellar backcourt of Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson each tabbed 18 points and combined for 12 rebounds and 9 assists between them. There might be one better backcourt in the ACC, but we will get two chances to find out, and I'm not betting against these guys, not with the way they are playing so far this season.
It should, of course, be mentioned that Florida State found out just last night that its leading scorer, Aaron Thomas, was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season for non-academic reasons, which likely had a mental effect on a team playing on the road against a ranked conference opponent. They came out strong, trading baskets and leads for a little more than the first quarter of the game, but they took an eight-point halftime deficit and quickly stumbled into a runaway 20+ point deficit in the second half.
Montay Brandon (14 points) and Devon Bookert (11) led Florida State in scoring as the only Seminoles to hit double-digits. A late rush saw Florida State keep the deficit to 20 points and their shooting percentage near 40%.
But this one was all Irish, who shot nearly 52% from the field, only turned the ball over 5 times, and was able to empty the bench towards the end of their first league game, something that will make Mike Brey happy for the next week.
Though their ACC season started tonight, Notre Dame reverts back to non-conference play for the next three games. After this week's final exams, the Irish take on the Purdue Boilermakers in the Crossroads Classic next Saturday in Indianapolis. Notre Dame is 2-1 in the Classic's short history and looks to beat a Purdue team trying to get back on track coming off a loss at Vanderbilt just a week after a home loss to North Florida.
The game against Purdue will be on the Big Ten Network at 5:15 EST next Saturday.
Other thoughts and observations:
- Empty the bench sooner, Coach. The Irish were coasting for the last ten minutes, but the starters did not come out until under 2. I know they have a week off until the next one, but put some of those minutes in the bank and at least let Colson, Torres, and Farrell log a few more possessions against an ACC opponent.
- I'm not sure what it is, but I can't help but look at Eric Katenda and think what could have been. He looks so natural out there and has such great size and length, I really think he could've been a player for this team if not for the worst luck imaginable. Props to the senior for continuing to battle and extend his career.
- I know Zach Auguste was incredible tonight, but Austin Torres deserves more than 7 minutes. He should be a 10+ minutes guy during conference season. He's tough, he knows what he is doing on the boards, he is very active on offense and showed some touch around the rim. He needs more minutes.
- This is the most athletic Notre Dame team of all time. Check out the dunk highlight reel below. I can't even think of a close second, but I'm young, so maybe someone has another contender in the comments.
- The dunks were awesome, but Grant's step-back, stare-down, pause some more, drain a three in a 7-footer's eye was the highlight of the night for me. He hasn't given NBA scouts bad film yet this season.
- I'm not sure if it's an actual award, but Notre Dame might have the two best candidates for Most Improved Player in the ACC this year with Auguste and Jackson.
- Hey 2016 recruits, find a more fun team to play for, I bet you can't find one.
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