ATLANTA — Not only did Notre Dame pick up an important conference road win Wednesday, but it also may have found another contributor for the rest of the season.
The 12th-ranked Fighting Irish played without forward Zach Auguste, who was back in South Bend dealing with an undisclosed academic issue. However, freshman Bonzie Colson stepped up in his absence to spark Notre Dame to a 62-59 win over Georgia Tech.
“Bonzie answered the call and delivered,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “It’s exciting to have another guy in the rotation.”
It was second close call for Notre Dame against Georgia Tech in 11 days. The Fighting Irish (16-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) needed double overtime to beat Georgia Tech in the conference opener on Jan. 4, and they never found a way to pull away from the pesky Yellow Jackets in the rematch.
Notre Dame secured the victory with 19.6 seconds left when guard Jerian Grant drove the baseline and hit a short jumper to give the Irish a 59-56 lead.
“It came down to making a couple of plays at the end of the game,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “You’ve got to make a couple of plays, and like the end of the game up there (at Notre Dame), we weren’t able to finish.”
The Fighting Irish missed Auguste, who averages 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. However, his absence was eased by Colson, a 6-foot-5 freshman forward who played a season-high 22 minutes and scored a career-best 10 points. Colson shot 3-for-4 from the field, 4-for-4 from the foul line, and had a season-high four rebounds. He also was praised for his defense against some of the larger Georgia Tech post players.
“He took an elbow to the face,” Brey said. “I think the other four players saw what this freshman was doing. He energized us.”
Grant led the Fighting Irish with 12 points and six assists. Guard Steve Vasturia added 11 points, and forward V.J. Beachem and guard Pat Connaughton each scored 10. Connaughton also had seven rebounds.
“(Grant) wasn’t playing well, and I really got on him,” Brey said, “but he made the big shot at the end.”
Georgia Tech (9-7, 0-4) was led by center Demarco Cox, who had 17 points and seven rebounds, and guard Chris Bolden, who came off the bench to score 13 points.
“Demarco played an unbelievable game,” Gregory said, “and he did a good job on defense.”
Georgia Tech, which lost its first three conference games, seemed to benefit from a lineup change. The Yellow Jackets opted to start Josh Heath and Corey Heyward at guard instead of Travis Jorgenson and Bolden, and the replacements responded by leading the team to a 38-30 halftime lead.
The Yellow Jackets led 35-23 when Heath dropped in a layup. The Irish then outscored Georgia Tech 7-3, but they didn’t make a field goal in the final 2:54 of the half.
Notre Dame scored the first seven points of the second half and cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 38-37 on a 3-pointer by Vasturia with 17:06 remaining. The Irish finally took the lead on a 3-pointer by Connaughton that made it 44-43.
The Yellow Jackets regained the lead on two free throws by Cox that made it 56-55 with 4:45 left. The Irish countered with a basket by Vasturia to regain the advantage, and they never trailed again.
Georgia Tech shot 53.6 percent from the field in the half and outrebounded the Irish 18-12. Notre Dame shot only 38.5 percent in the half but got 11 points off its fast break. The second half was a different story, as the Yellow Jackets shot only 26.1 percent.
“I thought Notre Dame played great defense in the second half,” Gregory said. “They got us out of rhythm. Some of the baskets we were making in the first half weren’t quite as easy in the second half.”
NOTES: Notre Dame F/G Pat Connaughton made his 100th consecutive start. He became the third Irish player to start at least 100 straight, joining Chris Thomas (2002-05) and Pat Garrity (1995-98). He is the 10th player in the program’s history to start 100 games in his career. … Notre Dame entered the game ranked first in the nation in field-goal percentage (53.5
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