SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Upon matching Digger Phelps, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey made light of his quest to pass the Irish coaching great.
But he added in all seriousness that he does want the chase behind him so he and his players can fully concentrate on the Atlantic Coast Conference title chase in front of them.
“Full-time security will be with me now for 24 hours a day,” Brey deadpanned after he tied Phelps’ Fighting Irish men’s basketball wins record at 393 with his team’s 68-59 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday to open conference play.
Bonzie Colson scored 22 points and matched his career high with 17 rebounds as the Irish bounced back from a five-point halftime deficit for the win.
Brey improved to 393-190 in his 18th season at ND. Phelps went 393-197 over 20 seasons from 1971-1991.
“(When) I got the job in 2000, I was hoping I’d be good enough to not get fired,” Brey said. “To be able to coach at this very special place for 18 years has been awesome.”
The Irish (11-3) scored the first eight points of the second half to take a 31-28 lead.
The Yellow Jackets (6-7) had only one more lead after that, 32-31, as Notre Dame steadily pulled away. A 10-1 run gave ND its largest advantage at 55-41 with six minutes to go.
Also scoring in double figures for the Irish was Martinas Geben with 12 points. Rex Pflueger scored 11, and Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs 10 apiece.
Pflueger also dealt a game-high six assists, while Geben flushed in three slams over the final nine minutes of the game.
Josh Okogie paced Tech with 16 points. Tadric Jackson added 15 points, while Jose Alvarado and Ben Lammers each scored 11.
Lammers also collected 12 rebounds, but the 6-foot-10 senior was a woeful 5 of 18 from the field on a day that both teams largely struggled against the other side’s zone.
“We need Ben Lammers to play better,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “There’s just no gray there. If he plays really well, we’re going to have a great chance to win the game. If he doesn’t, it’s just going to be hard for us. That’s how we’ve predicated our system and our schemes — around him — and we just couldn’t get it going.”
Each team, going mostly against zone defense, finished just 23 of 60 from the field (ND with seven 3-pointers and Tech with six), but the Irish were 15 of 18 from the foul line compared to the Yellow Jackets’ 7 of 18.
Notre Dame dominated in second-chance points at 16-0 and finished with a 30-18 advantage on points in the paint.
The Irish outscored the Jackets 45-31 in the second half in response to their 28-23 deficit at the break.
“Bonzie and Matt were fabulous,” Brey said of his players easing the tension in the locker room. “I heard them before I got in there. It was, ‘Relax. There’s 20 more minutes.’ It was very good. Matty and Bonz are really good in those situations. Bonzie especially has been great.”
Notre Dame continued a trend of typically being better in the second half.
“It’s kind of what we’ve done, not only this year, but I’ll take it,” Brey said. “I’ll keep trying to help us in the first half, but I don’t want to screw up the second half.”
Notre Dame got just three points from its bench over 26 combined minutes, while Tech used just two players off its bench. One of them, Tadric Jackson, did score 15 points.
“I like what they gave us,” Brey insisted of his four backups. “Still searching a little bit, but I wanted to give them all a chance to feel an ACC game. But, of course, when it got to that 11, 12-minute mark in the second half, it’s ‘OK, the main dudes gotta finish this thing,’ (plus) when we play zone, it’s not as exhausting.”
For the Jackets, freshman Moses Wright did not play at all after appearing in each of the first 12 games. He’s averaging 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds over 17.5 minutes.
“I wasn’t happy with Moses in practice the last two days,” Pastner said, “so it’s a learning experience for him. Moses is going to be good, but you have to practice at a high level or you’re not going to play.”
Notre Dame: The Irish have won three straight since their overtime loss to Indiana as they try to scale their way back into the national rankings. They’ll easily have that opportunity playing in the ACC.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have lost six of their last eight, with all eight games being played against unranked teams.
Notre Dame: The Irish play a second straight home game to start the ACC season when North Carolina State visits Wednesday.
Georgia Tech: The Jackets play their ACC home opener Wednesday against No. 15 Miami.