Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Zach Auguste graduates this spring having helped his team to back-to-back Elite 8s, a program-record 56 wins in consecutive seasons, and, of course, an ACC Championship.
Auguste came along slowly his first two years, playing backup to Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman. Then suddenly, in his junior year, Auguste was the guy down low for the Irish and, really, the only option. Pressure was heaped on him from the start of his two-year ride in the starting lineup, and the 6'10" center from Massachusetts delivered in a big way.
In 2014-2015, he was one of the most efficient players in the country, as his 62% eFG was good for 7th nationally, and best on a team that was the second-most efficient offense in the nation. In his senior season, shouldering even more of the load, Auguste was second on his team in scoring (14.7 PPG) and rated as the 5th most efficient shooter (56% eFG) in the ACC.
He was even better on the boards, grabbing the most per game (10.7) of any ACC player and coming 2nd in rebounding percentage. Altogether, Auguste was a double-double machine, picking up 22 of them, good for 3rd in the country behind pretty-good-basketball-players Brice Johnson and Ben Simmons. For his efforts, Auguste landed on the all-ACC third team.
Auguste was also a terrific captain, setting an emotional, fiery tone for his squad, while also clearly stepping up in that role off the court, as this story can attest.
To pay homage to the graduating big man, here is my fairly subjective ranking of his five best games in an Irish uniform, but please feel free to share your best memories and let me know which games I'm missing in the comments. There is certainly no shortage of games to choose from.
5. Regular season vs. Florida State Seminoles - December 13, 2014 - South Bend, IN
The only non-postseason game on this list, Auguste turned in a career-high 26 points against the Seminoles in a conference-season opening win that announced to the ACC that they'd be dealing with a much different Notre Dame team than the year before. The Irish ran the Seminoles out of the building, with Auguste effectively ending the game at the halftime buzzer with a thundering drive and dunk that began the #DunksDuLac movement.
There was a lot of concern entering that season whether Auguste could be the missing piece down low to match what looked like, on paper, to be a great Notre Dame backcourt. In this game, he showed he could be exactly that, despite Florida State deploying three 7-footers, and the rest, as they say, is history. This was the night when the Zach Auguste that we know arrived.
4. ACC Championship vs. North Carolina Tar Heels - March 14, 2015 - Greensboro, NC
Auguste was the unsung hero of the ACC Championship win over North Carolina in 2015. He had a double-double 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds against the Tar Heels' loaded front line. Senior teammates Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton were the story following this one (and deservedly so, given that both scored 20 or more and made big play after big play), but Auguste made a number of key plays as well that seemed to go unnoticed afterwards.
Notre Dame's massive 24-2 run included a steal-and-breakaway-dunk by Auguste, an offensive rebound tap-in, and four of his 13 rebounds that seemed to halt a Tar Heel rebounding attack that was winning the battle up until that point. Auguste was unfortunately not named to either 1st or 2nd all-tournament team despite this strong performance, so now it's time to give him his due for a great performance in a game that was full of them.
3. Round of 32 vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks - March 20, 2016 - Brooklyn, NY
Auguste had only one miss in this game, and it just so happened to be a miss that led to the dramatic, game-winning tip-in from teammate Rex Pflueger to stun the Lumberjacks and advance to the Sweet 16. Outside of that play, Auguste was a perfect 8 for 8 from the field and scored 16 points. He also, of course, had a double-double, as his 15 rebounds were not only a game-high but more than doubled the player with the next-most boards.
Auguste and fellow captain Demetrius Jackson dragged the Irish offense most of the way, as their combined 14 of 17 vaulted a Notre Dame attack in which everyone else shot for just 44%, which would not have been nearly good enough to get by Stephen F. Austin. Also, without Auguste's steal of Thomas Walkup with the Irish down five and just over a minute left, there is virtually no chance Notre Dame would've advanced.
2. Elite 8 vs. Kentucky Wildcats - March 28, 2015 - Cleveland, OH
On the most national of stages, Auguste went toe-to-toe with the 2015 NBA Draft's first overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, in what most touted to be the best game of last year's NCAA Tournament. Auguste matched Towns' 10 of 13 from the field, scored a team-high 20 points, and grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds in what was nearly an upset for the ages for Notre Dame, despite the fact that his minutes were limited with foul trouble.
The only thing keeping this performance from being number one on this list was the fact that the Irish lost. If they would have been able to pull it out, people in South Bend would still be talking about Auguste's performance, leading Notre Dame to the Final Four over then-undefeated Kentucky. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but that doesn't change the fact that Auguste turned in an all-time great NCAA Tournament performance for an Irish player.
1. ACC Quarterfinal vs. Duke Blue Devils - March 10, 2016 - Washington, D.C.
A career-high 22 rebounds. A team-high 19 points. A 16-point comeback for the ages for a postseason win over one of the most storied college basketball programs. Zach Auguste was the emotional and physical center of it all, providing all the fire necessary to will the Irish to the ACC Tournament victory. This was the game that embodied why Auguste was such a valuable captain and leader during his senior season.
The 2014-2015 team had a bit more calm and stoicism, but this bunch was a fiery, emotional, and spirited one, and that tone was clearly set by Auguste. It probably wasn't always the best mindset for the team, but all of those great comebacks and big moments came because the team had a chip on its shoulder and just wanted it more. This game, especially that massive block of Brandon Ingram or the and-1 put-back late in regulation, just exemplified Zach Auguste's and the rest of his Irish teammates' fire and never-say-die attitude perfectly.
Respect. pic.twitter.com/kgyDMOXWNG— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) March 28, 2016