Bonzie Colson was already a name Duke would like to forget, after his stellar effort helped send the Blue Devils home in last year’s ACC tournament.
After his performance Saturday, that’s going to be nearly impossible.
Colson’s go-ahead basket and ensuing free throw with 36 seconds left proved vital as Notre Dame knocked off No. 9 Duke 95-91 Saturday afternoon in a thrilling offensive shootout at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Colson finished with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds—eight of which came on the offensive end—and teamed with Fighting Irish guards Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson to score 77 points.
The loss—the Blue Devils’ second straight defeat in ACC play—overshadowed a monster day from freshman Luke Kennard, who scored a career-high 30 points on 15 shots after being inserted into the starting lineup for just the second time this year.
“[Colson] gets pretty fired up when he does play [Duke]. Bonzie is a big game guy. He loves a big game,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “I thought he helped his teammates get confident. Bonzie is such a warrior and that’s why I wanted to start him in the second half...We started posting him a bunch and then they had a guard on him or Ingram on him a couple times. He’s made the three a little bit in practice. Today was off the charts.”
Duke (14-4, 3-2 in the ACC) led for all but one possession of the first half, but an 11-3 Notre Dame run coming out of halftime quickly changed that. The Blue Devils tied the game on multiple occasions on 3-pointers by Kennard and Matt Jones, but did not take an outright lead until less than two minutes remained.
Every time it seemed Duke was poised to seize the lead, the Fighting Irish (12-5, 3-2) were right there with a bucket to stave them off. Notre Dame connected on 7-of-16 3-point attempts—including a few just before the shot clock expired—and seemed unfazed by Duke’s defense or the raucous road environment at Cameron.
Sophomore Grayson Allen knocked down an open corner trey to cut the Fighting Irish lead to 86-85 with 2:04 remaining. Then the Notre Dame offense showed its first sign of vulnerability, with Jackson dribbling the ball off teammate Zach Auguste's foot to give the Blue Devils the ball with a chance to take the lead.
Allen took advantage, faking his way inside and converting on a short jumper. But the lead was short-lived, as Jackson answered with a pull-up jumper to put Notre Dame back on top 88-87 with one minute left.
On the ensuing Duke possession, Allen drew a foul driving to the hoop and calmly swished both free throws to swing a one-point lead back to Duke. But a classic pick-and-roll feed from Jackson to Colson resulted in an easy bucket for Notre Dame, and Kennard fouled Colson on the way up. The sophomore's free throw gave the Fighting Irish a 91-89 lead with 36 seconds left.
“At the end of the day, we have to gut it up and get a stop,” Jones said. “We were up one with under a minute left, that’s the type of play we need to make.”
Although Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey did not include him in the starting lineup, Colson continued to make a habit of torching the Blue Devils. The sophomore forward recorded 17 points and nine rebounds as the Fighting Irish dispatched Duke in the ACC semifinals last season, and gave the undersized Blue Devils lots of trouble inside the paint Saturday. Colson led the way for a dominant inside effort that resulted in 50 points in the paint for Notre Dame and an 18-4 advantage in second-chance points.
With freshman Brandon Ingram once again saddled with foul trouble—the swingman sat for large chunks in both halves after he picked up his second and fourth fouls—Duke had trouble guarding Colson, who despite standing only 6-foot-5 was able to bully his way down low with ease for most of the afternoon. Colson displayed a nice array of post moves and stretched the Blue Devils on occasion with jump shots ranging out to the 3-point line.
“There’s a lot of stuff defensively that we have to put together,” Allen said. “We’re a young team so communication—we could always communicate more. It can’t just be Marshall screaming. When we’re in a loud environment like tonight, everyone has to be talking. Help side has to pull over. We have to play team defense. I thought we did a pretty good job individually, but we didn’t have all guys active off the ball. That comes from not talking.”
Colson had plenty of help giving Duke's defense fits, as the Notre Dame offense displayed its vintage blend of ball movement and balanced scoring. Vasturia knocked down each of his first four shots, combining lethal marksmanship from outside with a quick first step off the dribble to amass 10 points by halftime and a career-high 22 overall.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski assigned the 6-foot-5 Allen to stick with Vasturia, and although the sophomore enjoyed a productive day—18 points and a career-high tying six assists—he had no answer for slowing down Vasturia, who converted on 4-of-6 shots from downtown.
“We knew they were good players. We knew their strengths, we knew what they could do, and they did it,” Kennard said. “Vasturia—he had a great game, he shot the ball well. They’re great players, but we just have to execute. We just didn’t come ready to shut down their strengths.”
Despite being guarded for much of the afternoon by Matt Jones, Duke’s top defender, Jackson did his best Jerian Grant impression, slicing through the Duke defense all afternoon for a variety of short jumpers and layups as he piled up 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including a pair of contested jumpers just before halftime to help the Fighting Irish stay close heading into the locker room.
Jackson drew lofty praise from both Brey and Krzyzewski after the game for the way he managed the game and directed the offense. The junior played all 40 minutes Saturday and guided the Notre Dame offense to seemingly endless streaks of quality shots, all while limiting his team to just six turnovers.
“When you have someone like him, he should handle the ball. He’s a pro. He’s a big-time player,” Krzyzewski said. “With him on the court, you’ll see a chance to beat anybody because he understands his weaponry, and he doesn’t get tired. He’s an old, strong guy and he’s perfect mentally. He is just really poised. For me, I think he’s terrific, I think he’s a terrific player.”
Duke returns to the floor Monday night to host Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium trying to avoid a three-game conference losing streak.
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