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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Bonzie Colson returns for Senior Night win

It had Lithuanian flags. It had Bonzie Colson’s sister sing the national anthem. But most importantly, it had an Irish victory.

In other words, it was the perfect Senior Night for Notre Dame (18-12, 8-9 ACC), as the Irish sent their seniors off with a 73-56 win over Pittsburgh.

“It was surreal,” Irish senior guard Matt Farrell said after the game. “It was a night I’ll never forget.”

It was a game the Irish really wanted to win.

Sarah Olson | The Observer
Irish senior forward Bonzie Colson stares down Panthers junior forward Jared Wilson-Frame and looks to make a move from the triple-threat position during Notre Dame’s 73-56 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. Colson scored 12 points in the game.

The team’s five departing members — Matt Gregory, Austin Torres, Martinas Geben, Farrell and Colson — represent the winningest four-year class in Notre Dame history. The class’ two consecutive Elite Eights represent a historical highpoint for the program, so a loss on Senior Night wouldn’t be right, especially to a Pittsburgh (8-23, 0-18 ACC) team that is winless in ACC play.

“I just really wanted to make the most out of this year and end on a high note,” Geben said. “So far this season, I’ve been taking advantage of that. I’ve kept to my word; I’ve poured it all out there and left it all on the court, and good things have happened.”

Farrell in particular wanted a win for his recently deceased grandfather, who died shortly after seeing Farrell score his 1,000th career point against Wake Forest.

“I know he’s watching,” Farrell said of playing for his grandfather. “I looked over at my family, and they helped me not to break down. Like I said, it’s a special night. I knew he was watching.”

And on top of everything else, Irish head coach Mike Brey picked up his 400th win with the University.

But beyond the pregame festivities — which featured Colson’s sister showcasing her vocal talent and the playing of the Lithuanian national anthem to honor Geben — it was a game the Irish really needed to win.

A loss to the Panthers would have all but eliminated Notre Dame from any chance of making the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

But the win keeps Notre Dame’s hopes alive for at least a few more days, as the Irish now look ahead to a road game against No. 1 Virginia on Saturday and a chance to make the selection committee’s lives difficult.

“We’ve got work to do, there’s no question about it; but having [Colson] back will help,” Brey said. “The great thing about playing in this league is … when you need a quality win, there’s one on the schedule for you on Saturday.”

After his sister concluded her rendition of the national anthem, Colson gave her a big hug; and that emotion carried over into the game for the senior, who had been out of action since early January with a fractured left foot.

In his first seven minutes back from the injury, the New Bedford, Massachusetts, native racked up eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, five rebounds and a block.

“My teammates gave me confidence that I could do my thing, and I think these last two days practice-wise, I really tried to get into a good rhythm,” Colson said of his quick start. “The first day was great. The chemistry was there.”

“It felt like he never left,” Farrell said of Colson’s return to the lineup. “He started out the game like he always does, good mojo. I think people are a little scared of us now.”

Colson’s presence energized the Irish, and when Farrell and sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs’ 3-point attempts started falling, the Irish built a 39-23 halftime lead that included a 16-0 run at one point in the half.

With a 16-point lead to play with, Notre Dame kept its foot on the gas pedal until 10 minutes left in the half. The Panthers were able to mount a run that brought the game to within 13 points, but the Irish outlasted the Panthers and never let the margin get to single digits.

Colson finished his night with 12 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes on the floor. His fellow seniors stepped up as well, with Farrell putting in 14 and Geben chipping in nine with 13 rebounds. Torres, too, chipped in six points on 3-of-3 shooting.

“It builds,” Colson said. “We need to stay in character and do what we do. They’re obviously a really good defensive team, but we have a couple of days to scout. This was really a good step for us to come in here and get a win and move on from there.”

The Irish also outrebounded the Panthers 51-35, thanks in part to Colson’s energy on the glass. Brey said offensive rebounding in particular will be a key to Saturday’s matchup against Virginia (26-2, 15-1).

“We have to get to the offensive board, because you’re going to miss some first shots against them,” Brey said. “Can we get out to the backboard and get second shots and make it one of those grinders?”

“We’re going to go out and let it rip,” Farrell said. “Go out have fun, smile with each other and play Notre Dame basketball. They’re a really good team, a really tough environment. We’ve gone through challenges all year, so it’s nothing new.”