Jan. 31, 2016
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) Even A.J. Burgett was caught by surprise when Notre Dame coach Mike Brey decided to insert him into the starting lineup.
The senior forward, previously known as Austin but who recently began using A.J., had been a forgotten man at the end of No. 25 Notre Dame’s bench. That changed Sunday afternoon.
Burgett made his first start since March 3, 2014, and responded with a career-high 14 points to help the Irish blowout Wake Forest, 85-62.
Burgett added five rebounds and two steals in 25 solid minutes, after playing just 8 minutes total in ACC play coming in. He was informed by Brey on Saturday about the surprise start.
”At first, I was like, `Huh?”’ Burgett said. ”I haven’t been playing or anything, but I was like, `Alright, whatever you need, I’ll do it.’ I just came in and played.”
Brey said Burgett’s performance in practice over the past month, along with his age, drove the decision.
”I wanted my four captains on the floor. I wanted veteran guys,” Brey said. ”I was thrilled with what Burg gave us.”
Burgett’s performance nearly overshadowed the return of Demetrius Jackson, and another strong outing from Zach Auguste. Auguste had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Jackson added 14 points after missing Thursday night’s loss at Syracuse with a hamstring injury.
Auguste recorded his 12th double-double of the season and grabbed 10 or more rebounds for the fifth straight game, but he was more excited for his roommate, Burgett.
”He’s been with me since day one when we came in together, and I’m just real happy for him,” Auguste said. ”I wasn’t surprised. He’s earned it.”
V.J. Beachem added 15 points for the Fighting Irish (15-6, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Steve Vasturia scored 10 points to put all five Notre Dame starters in double figures.
Jackson, who was injured in Notre Dame’s win over Boston College last week, added eight assists and seven rebounds.
”Yesterday in practice I felt pretty good,” Jackson said. ”I just wanted to get back out there with my teammates. I felt really good.”
Devin Thomas had 19 points and eight rebounds for Wake Forest (10-11, 1-8), which never led. The Demon Deacons have lost six in a row.
”Tonight’s game for us, that was a beat down. It’s that simple,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning. ”We had a couple guys on the team that put up some resistance. But overall, as a group, we didn’t have it.”
Wake Forest freshman Bryant Crawford scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half.
Burgett hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and the Irish used a 14-3 run to open a 17-point lead. Wake Forest cut the margin to 37-27 with a 9-2 burst, but Jackson’s fadeaway jumper at the halftime buzzer got it back to 17.
Burgett’s strong drive to the hoop four minutes into the second half was part of a 13-2 Irish run that pushed their lead to 24.
Burgett’s decision to use A.J. instead of Austin was a simple one: He never cared for his first name, and everyone in his hometown of Avon, Ind. knows him as A.J.
”Just going back to who I was,” Burgett said. ”I’ve always been A.J. Burgett. The only time I’m called Austin is by my grandma, or if I’m in trouble with my mom. It’s kind of always been weird.”
Brey doesn’t care what Burgett wants to be called, as long as the results are the same.
”He can call himself whatever he wants,” Brey said. ”If he goes 4-for-6 from the 3-point line and rebounds like that, I’ll call him whatever.”
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have lost a school-record 20 straight road ACC games and are 2-49 overall in their last 51 conference road games. The wins came against Boston College on Jan. 21, 2012, and Virginia Tech on Jan. 22, 2014.
Notre Dame: The Irish, who lost 81-66 at Syracuse on Thursday, have not lost consecutive games since the end of the 2013-14 season.
Wake Forest hosts Clemson on Feb. 2.
Notre Dame visits No. 15 Miami on Feb. 3.