If you've followed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-10, 11-7) throughout the Mike Brey era, you know that deep benches are not really Brey's M.O. But following a sluggish and often ugly four-game stretch, Brey knew he needed some new contributions to take the pressure off of his struggling starters.
Enter Matt Ryan, who scored a career-high 17 points on 5 of 8 shooting, including 4 makes from long-range. Enter Rex Pflueger and his 3 for 3 from deep, 4 assists, and 4 steals in 24 terrific minutes. Enter Matt Farrell, who played more minutes (15) than he had in a long time and had 4 assists and a strong part in some of Notre Dame's best offensive bursts.
In total, Mike Brey went ten-deep on Saturday afternoon (11 if you count Martinas Geben's garbage time minutes) en route to an energetic victory over a pesky North Carolina State Wolfpack (15-16, 5-13) side that just couldn't keep up. Even despite the bench contributions, it was Zach Auguste who led the Irish attack, nabbing his ACC-leading 18th double-double on the season with a terrific 24 points and 11 rebounds. Auguste was an identical 8 of 11 from the field and the free throw line in his last regular season game at Notre Dame.
Mike Brey on Zach Auguste: "He is a flat out machine right now. I'm so impressed with the man, leader and player he's become."— Angelo Di Carlo (@angdicarlowndu) March 5, 2016
In truth, Auguste has been the only consistent Notre Dame player these past couple of weeks, but most of his teammates finally joined in the fun, allowing the Irish offense regain the efficiency it has had most of the season even at the much faster pace.
Demetrius Jackson started very slow (a brutal 0-6 in the first half) but came out in the second half a different player, shooting 6 of 9 and scoring 14 points. He also grabbed 6 rebounds and had 7 assists as he pushed the tempo for the Irish. Steve Vasturia also had double-digits with 13 points.
The Wolfpack stayed in the game for awhile on the back of their terrific point guard, Anthony Barber, who scored 29 points on 12 of 25 shooting. Abdul-Malik Abu (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Caleb Martin (16 points) also turned in strong efforts, but NC State only got 10 points from the rest of their roster, and the Irish offense was just too much for three men to keep up with.
The convincing win should have Notre Dame feeling much better heading into postseason play, regaining its offensive firepower and playing a more up-tempo style than they have in a long time. Today's version of the Irish could be tough to handle in D.C. and the NCAA Tournament as long as the Notre Dame from the last few games is left behind.
The Irish finish the ACC regular season with a solid 11-7 record and a lock for a 5th or 6th place finish. Should Duke lose tonight at home to North Carolina, Notre Dame will secure the last double-bye for the ACC Tournament. If Duke wins, Notre Dame will have to defeat one of NC State or Wake Forest on Wednesday evening before proceeding to take on the Blue Devils.