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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame looks to remain undefeated against North Carolina A&T

Sitting just outside the AP Top 25, Notre Dame will look to keep its unbeaten start going Sunday at Purcell Pavilion, when it welcomes North Carolina A&T at 5 p.m.

For the first time since 2010, the Irish have won their opening seven games, with the latest a 92-78 triumph over Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night. In many ways, that wasn’t a traditional Notre Dame win — the Irish turned the ball over 14 times, while recording just 11 assists — but head coach Mike Brey knew the challenge presented by the Hawkeyes would hurt the assist/turnover ratio.

“When you’re playing Big Ten teams and ACC teams and Big East Teams, you’re not gonna be ringing up 25 [assists] and six [turnovers] like we’ve done in some of the ‘guarantee games,’ I’m realistic about that,” Brey said Tuesday night. “I think I probably did a better job helping them with some entries in the second half. I don’t know if I was as good as I needed to be to get them in some offensive movement where guys didn’t have to force a play.”

Despite the 14-turnover evening, Notre Dame’s assist/turnover ratio remains one of the best in the country: The Irish only sit behind St. Mary’s (Calif.) nationally, averaging a 2.07 ratio so far.

When the Aggies, who sit 1-5 ahead of a Friday home game against North Dakota State, come to town Sunday, it will mark a chance for junior forward Bonzie Colson to extend his double-double streak to five consecutive games. On Tuesday, Colson had his most impressive game of the streak, going for 24 points and 17 rebounds, and Brey referenced a January 2015 game at Georgia Tech — where Colson broke out, filling in for Zach Auguste — when praising the Irish captain.

“He is the ultimate warrior, he is a great competitor,” Brey said. “There is an edge about him, he gives you confidence, he gives his teammates confidence, kind of like he did the first time I threw him in a game in Atlanta, Georgia. He had all those old guys believing we could win on the road — it carried them out.”

At just 6-foot-5, yet largely operating as a post player, Colson is one of college basketball’s most unique players — and his own coach still isn’t sure the best way to use him.

“I think we’re still learning how to put him in different spots,” Brey said. “We started the half getting him touches in the elbow and kind of clearing out — he had a bucket, he got to the foul line. It gave us a little bit of rhythm on the offensive end. Still trying to figure out where to put him, but as far as getting balls off the backboard, both offensively and defensive rebound, it’s clinic-type stuff.”

North Carolina A&T has struggled early this season — its only win was against Division III Greensboro — failing to break the 70-point mark in any game this year. Junior forward Davaris McGowens, who has recorded two double-doubles of his own this year, leads the Aggies, averaging 12.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Irish junior forward Martinas Geben looks to pass during Notre Dame's 92-78 win over Iowa on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.
Allison Culver | The Observer
Irish junior forward Martinas Geben looks to pass during Notre Dame's 92-78 win over Iowa on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

While he only played 11 minutes before fouling out, junior forward Martinas Geben made an impact Tuesday night, snagging nine rebounds in an energizing role for the Irish. Brey likened Geben’s emergence Tuesday to junior guard Matt Farrell’s at the Legends Classic the previous week.

“Big night for him. You could say Brooklyn was the Matty Farrell coming out, [Tuesday] I think it was for Martin,” Brey said. “ … [It’s] something for him to grow on, and thrilled for him; he deserves it. Because he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do this year.”

The Irish and Aggies will take to the Purcell Pavilion court Sunday at 5 p.m.