Notre Dame opened up conference play against the 6-6 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on a snowy Saturday afternoon in South Bend. Irish head coach Mike Brey continues to look for ways to get the offense going early on, but he’s having little success thus far. Accordingly, the Fighting Irish struggled in the first half, but rebounded and came away with the 69-58 win.
With the triumph, Mike Brey tied Notre Dame’s all-time wins record at 393 victories.
Georgia Tech forced the Irish into bad shots and untimely turnovers, while limiting the Irish to just 33% shooting in the first half. The Yellow Jackets rode a 1-1-3 zone to a 5-point first half lead, a lead they held for all of 17 seconds against the Irish.
Throughout the first half, the Irish missed a wide open Bonzie Colson, either in the short corner, or at the free throw line. The pre-season All American finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds going into the break. He made 4 of the 7 shots he took, most of which were high percentage shots, as he continued to make good decisions with the basketball.
Still, the Irish have shot poorly at home, today shooting only 30% from the arc, finishing 3 of 10 in the first half. Notre Dame, also uncharacteristically, struggled to get to the free throw line in the first half; the 3 attempts were a season low for the Irish in a half.
They settled for jump shots for a majority of the first half, instead of getting to the basket and drawing fouls.
The Yellow Jackets were led by sophomore Josh Okogie in the first 20 minutes, who tallied 8 points, to go with 4 rebounds. Give credit to the Yellow Jackets, they forced 7 Irish turnovers, and held the Irish to 23 total first half points. At half’s end, it was 28-23 in favor of Georgia Tech.
The second half started much differently for the Irish, as Notre Dame quickly erased a 5-point deficit, thanks in part to Georgia Tech starting the second half 1 for 7 from the field. Give credit to Brey, as the Irish needed to play more inside out, and that’s exactly what they did.
Bonnie Colson touched the ball on the first four possessions, including an and-1, pushing the Irish lead to 7. On the free throw make, Colson passed LaPhonso Ellis for 15th on the all-time scoring list with 1506 points. He finished with another career day, tallying 22 points and 17 rebounds.
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After establishing a small advantage, Notre Dame never let up. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t muster a run in the last ten minutes, and the Irish came away with a 69-58 victory.
It was a much different approach in the second half, as Mike Brey attested to after the game.
“Georgia Tech’s zone is long and athletic, and it’s a little hard to figure out, it took us some time, I thought in the second half we got some better passing, and cutting, and we drove it,” Brey said.
That’s exactly the reason why the Irish were able to win. In the first half, the Irish settled for jump shots, only getting to the free throw line three times, whereas they got to the line fifteen times in the second half, ending the game 15 of 18 from the charity stripe. Additionally, on the other side of that, the Irish did hold Georgia Tech to 32 second half points.
Notre Dame got contributions from the entire starting five, who each had double figures, including big Martinas Geben, who notched 12 points and 5 rebounds. Rex Pflueger added 11 points, TJ Gibbs tallied 10, and Energizer bunny guard Matt Farrell finished the day with 12.
In an afternoon of career marks, Head Coach Mike Brey tied Digger Phelps for the all-time Notre Dame wins record with 393, meaning a victory over N.C. State on Wednesday would make him the all time leader. It’s hard to measure just what Mike Brey has meant to this program. When he earns the record, it will be a monumental achievement.
If the Irish could ever figure out how to start fast, they would be incredibly hard to oppose. They can defend the ball, and they can score in droves. It just doesn’t happen until the second half! All in all, a good win for Notre Dame, as they start 1-0 in an 18-game gauntlet of ACC competition.