By: Will Burchfield
Mike Brey saw his nightmare come true early in Notre Dame’s loss to No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday night.
Hoping to contain the Spartans early and subdue the Breslin Center crowd, the Irish were down 20 points by the 10-minute mark and the place was going bonkers.
No. 5 Notre Dame cut the deficit to seven in the second half, but the Spartans answered the surge and cruised to an 83-61 win.
“They’re as good as anybody in the country,” Brey said, “and I’m glad they’re not in our league. I’m glad we don’t see them again.”
From the start, the Spartans got out and ran. Brey knew this would be a challenge entering the game, and the Irish couldn’t handle it early on. Michigan State had 17 fast-break points to Notre Dame’s seven.
“The first thing you start with is, can you stop their transition? As much as we talked about it and tried to practice it, you couldn’t simulate how fast they were coming down on us, and that had us on our heels. I think it affected us offensively too,” said Brey.
Four players scored in double digits for the Spartans, including sophomore point guard Cassius Winston, who was 5-6 from beyond the arc. He and Joshua Langford led Michigan State with 17 points a piece.
“They have a lot of different guys that can score the ball,” said Brey. “We tried to help a little bit on (Miles) Bridges on the first possession, Winston hits a big one. Langford hit big ones all night. (Jaren) Jackson rattled in a three at a time we thought maybe we’re coming back.
“They’ve got a lot of different options, and then when they can get 15, 18 offensive rebounds, whew, that puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
Michigan State doubled up Notre Dame on the boards, 42-21. 15 of those rebounds came on the offensive end, leading to 20 second-chance points.
Asked how Notre Dame can improve its play on the glass, Brey smiled and simply said, “Not play Michigan State. We don’t play them again, do we? That’s the best rebounding team in the country, so we’re okay, we’re good.”
Much of Michigan State’s early success was due to the defensive play of Jackson. The 6’11 freshman held Notre Dame’s leading scorer, senior forward Bonzie Colson, to just six first-half points. Colson finished with 19, but much of his damage came when Jackson was off the floor.
“Jackson’s length really bothered Bonzie early. He’s even bigger than I remembered; we recruited him,” said Brey. “He’s really long.”
Brey agreed that Jackson might be the toughest defensive matchup that Colson sees all season.
“It may be. That may be the toughest guy to deal with for Bonzie Colson. Obviously Duke has size, but I don’t know that they have active length that can move their feet like Jackson does. That was a whole different level. I think (Colson) was a little shocked that he couldn’t get his shot off there. We’re not going to see that much the rest of the way,” Brey said.
Notre Dame erased a 16-point deficit in a win over then-No.6 Wichita State last week, but Michigan State proved to be a sturdier opponent.
“I knew we had a run in us, and I give our guys credit,” said Brey. “We defended and executed to start the second half, took a couple charges and you’re feeling (like) you have a shot at this thing. The difference was, they made a big shot every time we threatened. Wichita State didn’t.”
Brey was also impressed by the energy in the sold-out Breslin Center.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in this atmosphere. What an unbelievable home basketball atmosphere here,” he said. “I’ve watched it on TV, they do a great job.”