Zach Auguste's career-high 26 points helped the Irish to a convincing 20-point win in their ACC opener.

IRISH EXTRA: ACC Opener Earns High Marks for Brey's Crew

Dec. 14, 2014

It started when Jerian Grant drove the lane and dished to Zach Auguste, who drove the baseline and then blasted off for a two-handed power slam that echoed throughout Purcell Pavilion at the 9:14 mark of the first half.

It finished with Pat Connaughton launching a three-point dagger at the 4:56 mark of the first half.

In a span of four minutes and 18 seconds, the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team stunned Florida State with an 18-2 run.

By the time Notre Dame finished off the Seminoles 83-63, the Fighting Irish soared for 10 slam dunks and Zach Auguste and terms like #DunkduLac were trending on Twitter.

“The Irish are throwing down, baby! The Irish are throwing down! How about that?” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said after Florida State ended up Tomahawk-chopped by an Irish dunk-fest. “We got some guys that can finish, don’t we? But to get a league win under your belt before Christmas is huge.”

Brey kept the Irish moment in perspective, but just as the Irish slams shook Purcell Pavilion, the explosiveness and efficiency of the victory had to reverberate in places like Chapel Hill, Durham, Charlottesville and Louisville.

It certainly had to open eyes in West Lafayette, where the Purdue Boilermakers are preparing to take on the Irish Saturday in the Crossroads Classic.

Notre Dame (10-1) tips off against Purdue (8-3) at 5:15 p.m. EST at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“I’m really proud of the team,” Brey said. “I thought that was a really thorough performance. We really defended them, guarded them, and we were efficient offensively. We were really prepared to play the past two days. I love how mature we prepared and it’s great to be 1-0 in the league.”

Notre Dame took a 33-21 lead after the 18-2 run. Florida State closed to within six points, but a buzzer-beater slam by Auguste gave the Irish a 38-30 halftime lead and set the tone for a dominating second half by the Irish.

“One of the things I talked to the players about was trying to become cruel competitors and going after people,” Brey said. “We talked about that at halftime. Could we put them away at the start of the second half? I’m proud that we did that.”

Auguste ended up with a career-high 26 points and seven rebounds. He was 11 of 15 shooting and had five of the 10 Irish slams.

Much of the focus entering the week was on Florida State’s three centers who each towered at seven feet tall. Auguste, who was two of seven and scored four points in Notre Dame’s 79-78 overtime victory against Michigan State, took it as a personal challenge to play tough inside for the Irish, a must when Notre Dame slugs it out in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“I wanted to come out and show people I can bang with the bigs,” Auguste said. “I’m not afraid of size. I can get in there and bang with the best of them. Against Michigan State, I struggled a little bit and people said I couldn’t deal with the size and physicality of the game. I’m here to show people that I can.”

Connaughton said starting off on the right foot in the ACC was critical.

“This was huge,” Connaughton said. “We know it’s in us, but we just had to come out and play our brand of basketball, work on the defensive end and execute offensively.”

Although dunks and drives drew oooohs and ahhhhs from the Irish faithful, Connaughton loved the tenacious defense that held Florida State below its scoring average of 70.2 points a game.

“I’m proud of our defensive effort,” Connaughton said. “It’s something we’ve been working on all off-season and the first 10 games so far this season. We want to make sure we continue to work hard on defense. Even though our offensive numbers are there, we want to start with defensive intensity and defensive pressure.”

Jerian Grant, who scored 18 points against the Seminoles, said the Irish gave future ACC opponents plenty to be concerned about.

“I think this game says we can win in a lot of different ways,” Grant said. “Against Michigan State, it was the guards. Against Florida State, Zach (Auguste) was a big force. He wanted to have a great week in practice and this game. When we went inside, he proved he could get the job done.

“This game is going to show that playing us is not going to be an easy game. This game gave us confidence.”

Brey loved the energy the Irish got off of their bench, despite missing V.J. Beachem due to injury. Production off the bench will be a key factor in ACC battles.

“I thought our bench was great tonight,” Brey said. “I thought our bench gave us great minutes. I thought (Martinas) Geben came in and gave us great minutes, I thought (Austin) Torres came in and gave us great energy, (Austin) Burgett came in and gave us good stuff. It was limited, but they had a big role in this. Our key guys are going to play a long time in big games. But I thought all three guys we used off the bench did great.”

For Auguste, the Irish leadership has the team ready for the fight.

“I think we have great leaders in Jerian and Pat,” Auguste said. “They brought us in together and told us to play hard, play aggressive and play our best. I think we have an edge to us. I think by beating Florida State the way we did, we just told people that we’re Notre Dame and we’re ready.

“Last year, we struggled to find out who we were in the ACC. This year, we’re going to make an identity. We’re going to make a statement. We’re going to put our footprint down in this league.”

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent