SOUTH BEND, Ind. — 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 for the Irish (18-12, 8-9 ACC).
Jared Wilson-Frame had a game-high 20 points, and Terrell Brown and Shamiel Stevenson had 10 each for Pitt (8-23, 0-18), which hasn’t won since Dec. 22.
“I admire them because they haven’t stopped battling and haven’t stopped trying,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. He also believes the Irish, who went 6-9 with seven consecutive losses without Colson, might 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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
Colson played the first 6 minutes, 45 seconds 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.”
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 tenuous. Freshmen 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.