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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish prepare to host Chicago State before Maui tourney

On Monday afternoon, there was a banner in Purcell Pavilion with “383” written on it.

On Tuesday, it changed to 384, and Notre Dame fans hope it will change to 385 after Thursday night’s game against Chicago State.

The banner — adorned with #BreysChase — is tracking Irish head coach Mike Brey’s career win total at Notre Dame (2-0).

Sarah Olson | The Observer
Irish senior forward Bonzie Colson gathers the ball during Notre Dame's 88-62 victory over Mount St. Mary's on Monday at Purcell Pavilion.

The chase? Brey needs just 10 more wins to pass Digger Phelps as the winningest head men’s basketball coach in Irish history.

“That’s cool, it’s more pressure” Brey said of the banner. “I mean, first of all, I can’t believe I’ve been here 18 years and have a chance to be the all-time winningest coach. When I got the job 18 years ago, man, I was just trying not to get fired. I’m just hoping I can get from year to year and hope I can maybe get one extension. … To have been here this long, I’m honored. I’ve been really, really lucky.”

Brey also said he hopes he breaks the record as soon as he can.

“I’d like to get it sooner rather than later for two reasons,” Brey said. “One, it means we’re having a pretty good start. Two, I won’t be distracted by it, and we can move on to ACC play.”

Leading Brey’s team to those wins will be a staunch Irish defense. Through its two games, Notre Dame has given up an average of 60 points a game, in addition to holding teams to 36.5 percent shooting from the floor.

“I think we really are defending. We know we can defend, we like to defend,” Brey said. “I don’t have to sell it, I don’t have to put a whip on them to guard — like they are upset when they get scored on. There’s a great mentality there, and that’s led by [senior forward] Bonzie [Colson]. Bonzie’s really set a tone by talking about it.”

While Colson and junior guard Rex Pflueger are the engines of Notre Dame’s defense, Brey said the team’s experience as a whole is a major factor in its strong defensive play.

“When you have an older team, they know how to talk to each other,” Brey said. “Young guys don’t know what to say sometimes. … The old guys have been in our system, and they have heard each other’s voice a lot. That group that starts has played a lot together now — I love their chemistry on both ends of the floor.”

“That’s a point of emphasis,” Colson said. “We want to play hard defensively. I think when we have our communication and we talk and we move, I think that’s when we’re at our best. We want to gets kills, we want to get stops because we know that’s when we’re efficient offensively as well.”

The Irish will look to keep up their active defense against Chicago State on Thursday. The Cougars (1-2) come into Purcell on the heels of a 101-53 victory over Silver Lake College, but in their two games against major conference foes, the Cougars have lost 95-62 and 111-42 against Iowa and Purdue, respectively.

Thursday’s game marks the last time the Irish play before heading to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. One player who the Irish hope will continue to play well is Pflueger, who picked up his first career double-double versus Mount St. Mary’s on Monday night, totaling career highs with 13 points and 10 boards.

Brey has praised Pflueger’s ability to do everything the team needs from rebounding, guarding and moving the ball on offense. Though Pflueger only scored three points in Notre Dame’s first game against DePaul, he picked up a career-best mark in points the next game. That turnaround speaks to Pfluger having the right mentality, Brey said.

“I think that’s a key for him, understanding not to hang his hat on his jump shot,” Brey said. “He drove it and got fouled when we were having a hard time scoring in the first half. He’s understanding where to get his stuff offensively. The defense and the rebounding and the good stuff with the ball and the overall communication, just fabulous. He’s really another leader on the floor.”

Notre Dame and Chicago State will tip-off Thursday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.