Nov. 14, 2015
By John Heisler
A half-hour before tipoff Mike Brey paced by himself in the Irish men’s basketball locker room. That’s what head coaches do.
Eight months ago, Brey did the same thing in Cleveland before his squad was about to meet top-rated Kentucky in the NCAA Elite Eight. Friday night the opponent was St. Francis (Pa.) in the 2015-16 season opener at Purcell Pavilion.
Moments later, Brey delivered his final remarks to his new University of Notre Dame men’s basketball group-and the Irish headed out into the hallway to take the floor.
“Let the show begin,” said sophomore Bonzie Colson, to no one in particular.
And that encapsulated the evening that actually traversed two seasons-last year’s amazing 32-6 campaign and this coming year’s version that began with an 87-56 victory over the Red Flash.
As a photo of the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship trophy hit the video boards, the Notre Dame players craned their necks to see what else would follow. Brey stood to the side, looking to the rafters where the not-yet-unfurled banner awaited at the east end of the arena.
“. . . Tonight we formally recognize one of the most special teams and seasons in Notre Dame athletics history . . .” came the words from public address announcer Ron Stryker.
The championship banner popped, the crowd (that included former Irish quarterback Joe Theismann) cheered-and then it was on to the next journey.
“It was special to see that thing drop,” allowed Brey later.
“Any time in a program you can hang a banner, that’s a fantastic thing,” allowed Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel.
But, at least based on Friday night, those fans will have no problem embracing junior guard and local product Demetrius Jackson, who was flat-out dominating seemingly any time he wanted to be-including on the boards with eight rebounds.
Jackson finished with a career-high 27 points, and he couldn’t have been much more impressive. After the game Krimmel said he kidded Jackson that, even though the stat sheet said Jackson missed four shots, Krimmel did not recall any of those. “It didn’t seem like he missed any,” he said.
In fact, maybe Jackson’s most impressive play was one that didn’t count-a near-miss on a tip-in try in which his head was up near the rim.
“He’s one of the premier guards in college basketball,” Krimmel said.
“It was his show. He made it look easy. The torch has been passed,” said Brey.
Brey is emphasizing defense. On the locker room white board, the coaches had written pregame defensive keys: 1. Defensive balance; 2. Great ball pressure, contest with confidence; 3. One and done.
Said Brey to his team before the game, “There shouldn’t be any excuse for not getting off to a good start defensively. We’re contesting, man. We’re gonna get good solid ball pressure and count on our help side. Let’s have good huddles tonight. We’re gonna make some mistakes, but on to the next play.”
The Irish led 38-25 at the break (building from an 11-10 deficit eight minutes in).
At halftime, said Brey, “All I know is they’ve got 25 points. Keep doing it defensively. We’ll get it going offensively. We held them to 36 percent (shooting)-that’s really good.”
Zach Auguste did his part as well, with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Brey will take that every night.
Freshman Matt Ryan played with bravado (in 16 minutes) and hit three three-pointers. Colson had a tough evening, fouling out with 12 minutes remaining-and Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem (a combined six for 16 from the floor) assuredly will be more effective on other nights.
“We dropped the banner and played our butts off,” said Brey to his squad. “Definitely something to build on. We defended the whole game. When we substitute, you guys play the same way. Our two guys we brought to (ACC) media day, what a way to make a statement. What you did (pointing to Jackson) and what you did (pointing to Auguste) set the tone. We’ve got a lot of options, man.
“We’ll digest it, watch a little film tomorrow and then we’ve got a few days to get ready for an ACC-like challenge from Wisconsin-Milwaukee. You’re gonna hear me say that a lot this week.”
Brey especially liked the way Jackson picked his spots to become more aggressive offensively:
“Tonight he was hunting his stuff a little more than in practice, and I love that.”
It’s a long time until March.
For one opening night, Brey and his charges put a final flourish on last year and set one building block in place for 2016.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:
— Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:
— Brey’s Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner-and Moves On
— Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:
— Men’s Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:
— Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices: http://www.und.com/genrel/092215aae.html
— Bud Schmitt Doesn’t Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092315aag.html
— Sunday Brunch: Daytime Look at Irish Is Revealing
— Remembering Bob Kemp: Notre Dame Lacrosse Family Honors Devoted Father
— Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: