SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame’s “Big Three” got the season started Saturday in a convincing way.
Bonzie Colson had 23 points and nine rebounds, V.J. Beachem tied his career-high with 22 points, and fellow tri-captain Steve Vasturia added 16 to power Notre Dame to an 89-64 victory over Bryant.
The Irish used an 18-2 second half run, capped by Rex Pflueger’s 3-point play, to turn a single-digit lead into a 22-point advantage in a span of five minutes.
“The ‘Big Three’ led the way,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “That was good because it was a hard game.”
Notre Dame, which is coming off back-to-back Elite Eight runs in the NCAA Tournament, was just 3 of 16 from beyond the arc but hit 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free-throw attempts.
“I love what we did from the foul line,” Brey said. “I think we can be right up there nationally.”
Nisre Zouzoua led Bryant with 19 points. Freshmen Sebastian Townes chipped in 16 points and Adam Grant had 13 before fouling out. The Bulldogs turned it over 13 times and shot 41 percent from the field.
“We were able to hold ourselves very competitively for a good portion of the game,” said Bryant coach Tim O’Shea. “It got away from us a little bit, but it was more of a function of how good Notre Dame is. We made some mistakes, but we weren’t overwhelmed.”
Known as a shoot-first 3-point threat, Beachem was a perfect 7 of 7 from the foul line, a result of his improved ability to drive to the basket rather than settle for jump shots.
“That was something I was focused on in the offseason, putting the ball on the deck,” Beachem said. “That was something I was hearing feedback on after the (NBA) draft process, so it’s something that I have to make a concerted effort to do rather than just spot up and shoot 3s.”
Colson scored on a variety of moves down low, but also stepped out and knocked down a 3-pointer, showcasing his offensive versatility.
“He’s an amazing guy, with a nose for the ball,” Brey said. “He sets the tone for us.”
FIRST HALF RUNS
Bryant missed its first nine shots and didn’t score until nearly five minutes had passed while falling behind 9-0. But Grant’s consecutive 3-pointers sparked a 15-2 Bulldogs run that put them ahead 19-15 with nine minutes left in the first half.
Beachem responded with seven straight points to start an 11-2 Irish run, and Notre Dame scored the final seven points of the half to build a 12-point lead.
“It’s huge to have a guy like VJ who can stretch it and drive it,” Colson said. “We knew we would have to fight some adversity, but we just stayed together as a unit and stayed within ourselves.”
Bryant: The Bulldogs, a Division I program since 2012, will play just four home games in the first two months of the season, while breaking in a six-man freshman class.
Notre Dame: Debuting two new starters who played very little last year, Notre Dame improved to 17-0 under Mike Brey in season openers. Point guard Matt Farrell led the Irish with six assists in 28 minutes, while forward Martinas Geben had four points and seven rebounds.
Bryant: Senior forward Dan Garvin had seven points against the Irish as a freshman the last time the Bulldogs faced them in a narrow 11-point loss at ND in 2013. Garvin finished with four points and a team-high 12 rebounds Saturday.
Notre Dame: After leaving Notre Dame’s second exhibition game last Monday due to shortness of breath, senior forward Austin Torres retuned to play eight minutes and threw down an emphatic two-handed dunk in the second half.
Bryant opens its home slate with Salve Regina on Tuesday.
Notre Dame plays another early-season home tuneup against Seattle University on Wednesday