SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — With Bonzie Colson back in his lineup and No. 1 Virginia awaiting his team Saturday, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was having visions of a possible NCAA Tournament berth after Wednesday’s 73-56 victory over Pittsburgh on Senior Night.
A preseason Associated Press All-America pick, Colson, who missed two months with a broken bone in his left foot that had to be surgically repaired, played 21 minutes and almost had a double-double. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, as the Irish (18-12, 8-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their second straight and fifth in their last seven games.
“We’re 8-9 in this league,” Brey said after earning his 400th career victory at Notre Dame. “I’m proud of this group and what they have done. Saturday we have an unbelievable opportunity against a great team. Having him (Colson) back adds so much confidence and energy. Those guys missed him, they missed his edge and confidence.”
Matt Farrell, playing for the last time at Notre Dame, and T.J. Gibbs led the Irish with 14 points each, and senior Martinas Geben had nine points and 13 rebounds as the Irish won the rebound battle 51-35.
Colson played 21 minutes and scored his 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He also added three blocks and an assist as the crowd saluted him with chants of “Bonzie, Bonzie” during his last home game.
“I just wanted to play my game, to play with passion and to stay in character,” Colson said.
Jared Wilson-Frame had a game-high 20 points and Terrell Brown and Shamiel Stevenson had 10 each for Pittsburgh (8-23, 0-18), which concluded its regular season with its 18th straight defeat in ACC play.
“I admire them because they haven’t stopped battling and haven’t stopped trying,” Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings said. He also believes the Irish, who went 6-9 with seven straight losses without Colson, may be able to open some eyes on the NCAA selection committee if they can give Virginia a scare and make a nice run at next week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, New York.
“They’re one of the best at-large teams in the country,” Stallings said. “I hope they have enough ball left in them and the committee can see the difference in them. Colson is one of the best players in our league when he is right and ready.”
Colson played the first 6:45 before taking a breather with the Irish ahead 12-11. Notre Dame opened a 27-13 lead with seven minutes remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers by Farrell and Gibbs before settling for a 39-23 halftime lead. Colson’s layup early in the second half made it 45-23 and the Irish cruised from there.
“We’ve been through more adversity than anybody in the country,” said Farrell, who missed some time after Colson’s injury with a sprained left ankle himself. “It’s going to be fun. We like being the road dogs.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers, who had clinched last place in the 15-school ACC and will play the No. 10 seed in next week’s tournament in Brooklyn, started four freshmen — Parker Stewart, Khameron Davis, Brown and Stevenson — with senior guard Jonathan Milligan. The Panthers have not won since beating Towson before Christmas. The coaching status of Stallings, in his second year at Pitt and with four years remaining on his contract, is rumored to be very tenuous. Davis, Stewart, Stevenson and Marcus Carr and junior Wilson-Frame were named to the ACC’s all-academic team.
“To have five guys (a league best) on the all-academic team is outstanding,” Stallings said.
Notre Dame: Colson started and played to the first media break 6:45 into the contest. He got the first rebound of the game and had the second rebound stripped from him before diving for the loose ball. He scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, had six rebounds, one assist and two blocks in playing 12 minutes in the first half. His presence could help the Irish in next week’s ACC Tournament and whatever tournament — NCAA or NIT — that takes the team.
“Our confidence is high right now,” Colson said. “We’ve just got to keep building.”
In addition to Colson, Notre Dame said goodbye to three other seniors and other non-playing personnel. Geben was in tears and sang along to the national ballad of his native Lithuania before Colson’s sister, Syndi, performed the national anthem. When she was done, Colson broke ranks and ran to her for a lengthy, tearful hug. After the game, Farrell left with his parents to return to New Jersey for the burial of his grandfather, Robert, a 1958 Notre Dame graduate. The elder Farrell died from cancer early Sunday after watching his grandson score his 1,000th career point and hit a closing 3-pointer Saturday in a 76-71 victory at Wake Forest.
Pittsburgh: Plays Tuesday afternoon first-round ACC Tournament game in Brooklyn against No. 10 seed yet to be determined.
Notre Dame: Visits No. 1 Virginia Saturday afternoon to conclude regular season.