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Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh: What We Learned

Irish fans rejoice, for our lord and savior Bonzie has returned.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Irish fans have waited two months to see a performance like that. Luckily, it game just before the end of the home schedule.

The Irish celebrated senior night with the return of their most potent senior weapon Bonzie Colson, and rolled to an easy 73-56 victory over ACC-doormat Pittsburgh. The blowout win was the perfect way to sit back, enjoy Bonzie’s return and thank the seniors that will be leaving South Bend come spring.

Here’s what we learned from the convincing, hope-inducing win:

ACC beware: Bonzie is coming

If the Irish are to have any hope of seeing their name revealed on Selection Sunday, they will have to win a few games in next week’s ACC Tournament. Fortunately, Monday night’s win showed that the necessary wins to secure a tournament berth might not be so far-fetched, thanks to Colson wasting no time in showing that he will be ready to roll in Brooklyn.

The ACC Preseason Player of the Year showed no signs of rust after taking two months to recover from foot surgery, hitting four of his first five shots in the first five minutes of play. Colson was originally expected to be in the starting lineup just for recognition purposes, and Mike Brey would order an immediate foul to get him out of the game and out of harm’s way. Instead, Colson did what he has done for the past two seasons, and flexed the Irish into an offensive groove by finishing near the rim and forcing turnovers on the defensive end.

Colson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes, a more than suitable tune-up before Saturday’s big road match with Virginia. Win or lose, Colson should see a slight minutes increase to shake off any remaining rust before the start of the conference tournament. Asking Colson to carry the team to a NCAA Tournament berth will be a lot to ask, especially given the back-to-back format of the conference tournament. That is a concern for another day. For now, it’s great just to see Colson back on the floor and doing his thing.

Pittsburgh is just plain bad

Colson was fantastic, especially for his first game back from a serious injury, but it should be acknowledged that the Irish faced the best possible scenario with easing Colson back in. Pittsburgh is the optimal matchup to take time to get back in the swing of things and still come away with a win. The entire ACC has been beating up on the Panthers this season, and the Irish were no different.

Notre Dame, always a heavy three-point shooting group, finished just 29.2-percent from beyond the arc (and missed five of their 15 free throws) and still managed to put up 73 points thanks to a porous Panthers defense, specifically in the paint.

Colson got on the board with one of his signature awkward and contested shots from 10 feet away, but the Panthers then proceeded to give Colson multiple wide open looks near the free throw line for much of the first half. For anyone just coming back from an extensive absence, that’s like Christmas morning.

So, how much hope to we instill in the rest of the season based on this performance? It’s hard to say. The Panthers are terrible, but the Irish still looked great. For that, I would say it’s a little bit of both.

Special senior class deserving of recognition

The Senior Night win was extra special for the seniors, as it was the 100th of their career at Notre Dame. They become the first group to reach that mark in program history with the win, thanks in large part to the recent March success of the Irish. This class has a current streak of three-straight seasons with a NCAA Tournament win, including back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.

The anchor of the graduating class has been Colson and Matt Farrell, who have been as dominant a duo over the past three seasons as anyone in team history. Martinas Geben has made more of a recent impact with Colson’s injury, and Austin Torres has been a defensive pest since the team’s Elite Eight run in 2015.

Notre Dame basketball has begun to reach new heights in recent years (and recent recruiting classes), and the senior class has played a big part in the program’s rise. Leprechaun hats off to the seniors!

Oh, and the win was also the 400th of Mike Brey’s career. Not too shabby for one of the great coaches in college basketball.