Entering Sunday, though most recognized it was possible, few thought that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-6, 6-3) would be getting star point guard Demetrius Jackson back in the starting lineup. On top of that, absolutely no one thought we would be seeing Austin Burgett joining him.
But that's exactly what the team announced shortly before game time, and the new lineup clearly energized the Irish, as they turned in one of their most complete performances of the season on both ends of the floor in a huge 23-point victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-11, 1-8).
Both Jackson and Burgett were terrific Sunday afternoon. Jackson filled up the stat sheet with 14 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 6 steals. Burgett scored a career-high 14 points, including 4 of 6 from three, to go along with 5 rebounds and a couple forced turnovers.
But the best player for Notre Dame may have well been Zach Auguste, who had yet another double-double with 21 points (including a perfect 7 of 7 from the stripe) and 12 rebounds. His defense, particularly in the first half when the outcome was far from decided, was also much improved from what we have seen in recent weeks.
The defense in general was really stellar, as the Irish were more aggressive on that end than we have seen all season. They forced (and I mean actually forced them) 18 turnovers, including 13 steals that allowed them to get out on the fast break more than a few times. They closed out on shots from deep (Wake was only 4-16 for three) and did not allow many easy inside buckets until the game was out of hand.
Bryant Crawford was the lone bright spot for the Deacons for most of this one with 20 points on 7 of 15 shooting. Devin Thomas also finished with 19 and 8, but much of his production was well into the second half with the game already out of hand. Thomas got most of his points when freshman giant Doral Moore was inserted in the game, keeping Auguste occupied and allowing Thomas to get some mismatches at the 4 position.
V.J. Beachem also added a "quiet" 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting, with Steve Vasturia adding 10 to put all five starters in double-digits. The bench was truly quiet, with 5 from Rex Pflueger, just 4 from Bonzie Colson, and Matt Ryan finding himself pretty much out of the rotation with such an effective performance from the senior Burgett.
With the win, the Irish sit at the halfway point in conference season with a rock-solid 6-3 (tied for 3rd) but face a tough four-game stretch coming up starting Wednesday at Miami (7pm EST, ESPN2). A 2-2 split in these next four would go a long way towards getting this team over 20 regular season wins and likely rising up the projected tournament seeding before too long by adding some quality wins.