Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Brey Notebook: Princeton

March 16, 2017

Winning is hard, but winning in March takes determination. Notre Dame escaped the first round with a 60-58 win over Princeton on Thursday afternoon and head coach Mike Brey will take it.

“First game of the tournament – we got everyone ready and gave everyone a show,” Brey said after the game. “I am thrilled about our defense to keep them under 40 percent and really guard the arc.

“We’ve been in a lot of games like that. Game situations, having to make a big defensive stop or having to get a bucket and get it to the right guy. We’ve been there. I am really proud we’re still alive.”

Brey was pleased with his team’s defensive effort, as Notre Dame held the Tigers to 12 percent below its season average shooting the three-ball. Princeton entered the game making 10 three-pointers a game, and on Thursday, the Tigers hit nine. Devin Cannady’s missed three with under five seconds left proved to be the deciding factor.

“To force them into 8-for-31 is a heck of a job by us, and it’s probably why we won the game,” explained Brey. “We even blocked a couple of them. I thought our sense of urgency, switching stuff, and getting out on shooters was the key.”

Notre Dame has been known as an offensive team, but Brey saw grit on the defensive end of the floor as shots were falling for the Irish.

“I am a thrilled because this group is a good defensive group,” stated Brey. “We had to win it playing defense. We weren’t in a great flow offensively and some guys didn’t shoot it as well as they would have liked.

“We continued to guard and that’s where we are pretty mature. When we aren’t scoring, it doesn’t affect us on he defensive end.”  

Bonzie Colson has been the key to success for the Irish over the last five months and was no different on Thursday. The junior forward scored 18 points and pulled down seven boards to lead the Irish.

“He was certainly the difference,” Brey said. “We were able to post him more. We really don’t post him as much against ACC teams. He is out dribbling, exchanging, and then sneaks into the post off a ball-screen and roll.

“We were just throwing it in there to him. It looked like the (Luke) Harangody days – just chucking it in there and seeing what happens.”

Colson’s performance came after sustaining an ankle injury against Duke in Saturday’s ACC Championship game.  

“He is sore,” Brey explained. “He’s a warrior. He played through some soreness. The great thing about the NCAA Tournament is you have a day in between to really get that thing right again. This time a year, you’re playing on adrenaline.”  

Another piece to the win was the resiliency of sophomore Rex Pflueger. The California native took a shot to the head in the first half, which led to Pflueger missing a large chunk of the first 20 minutes to patch it up.

“I’m a big karma guy,” stated Brey. “Bonzie is banged up a little bit, we used a lot of energy in Brooklyn, and then Pflueger gets dinged up and is bleeding. I am thinking like ‘I don’t know about today.’ I’ll tell you what, he is a tough kid. We glued him up.

“We would have stitched any other of our guys, but since he is from L.A. and he is Hollywood, we didn’t want to mess his face up. We glued his head up because he could be a movie star someday.”

Pflueger returned to the game and his defensive presence was felt as Princeton scored just 28 points in the second half.  

“He’s been tough as nails,” Brey said of Pflueger. “I asked my staff if he was giving us anything and then he hit the baseline shot. I guess he was OK. He really defends and that attention to detail chasing shooters off the arc, he’s fabulous at that.”
While Colson scoring in the paint, point guard Matt Farrell was hitting timely shots on the perimeter. The junior scored 16 points, which included three treys and four assists.

The confidence Farrell played with on Thursday has been something he has done all year, but it started with a move by Brey in last season’s NCAA Tournament.

“He’s at the controls of this program,” explained Brey. “He’s been that way since the summer. What helped him get confident early in this season was that we did start him in the NCAA Tournament last year. When we went to Brooklyn and won the Legends Classic, it was a great coming out party, but he felt good and that made us all believe in him.”  

Notre Dame will need to play a better game on Saturday with a Sweet 16 appearance at stake, but Brey knows his team can rise to the occasion.

“I think in this tournament, and with this nucleus of guys, they feel like it’s what we did last year,” said Brey. “We stole wins to get to the Elite 8. It’s very similar to two years ago with the Northeastern game. It’s a tough one, and you escape, then you can get on a run. Our guys believe that because they’ve experienced it.” 
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