Notre Dame responded well in its first contest without its top interior player. However, it remains to be seen how the 12th-ranked Irish will respond if Zach Auguste is unavailable for the rest of the season.
Notre Dame tries Saturday to survive a visit from Miami, which has already knocked off elite competition on the road.
Auguste has been a key component to the Irish’s best start since going 17-2 in 1978-79. The team’s only starting frontcourt player for its first 17 games, Auguste is second on Notre Dame (16-2, 4-1 ACC) with 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and his 65.3 field-goal percentage ranks among the best in Division I.
He didn’t play in Wednesday’s 62-59 win at Georgia Tech, however, as coach Mike Brey said he was working on an academic matter. Brey said the team is preparing to play Saturday without Auguste, who has “work to do and he’s in the process of doing it.”
Jerian Grant’s 12 points led a balanced effort in his absence as five players scored in double figures to help the Irish bounce back from last Saturday’s 62-56 loss to then-No. 3 Virginia.
Freshman Martinas Geben was scoreless in six minutes in his first start in place of Auguste, while fellow first-year forward Bonzie Colson had season highs of 10 points and 22 minutes. Brey started Colson after halftime and was encouraged by his physical play.
“He’s been practicing well and then talk about answering the call and delivering,” Brey said. “As excited as I am about the win, I’m excited to have another guy in our rotation that we can now count on.”
Brey’s squad was outrebounded 33-26, however, after being outrebounded four times in the first 17 games.
The Hurricanes (12-4, 2-1) won 90-74 at No. 4 Duke on Tuesday, improving to 3-0 on the road. They’re one of four teams with two road wins against ranked opponents, also defeating then-No. 8 Florida on Nov. 17.
“That’s one of the best things about this team, we don’t shy away from anything, we use everything as motivation,” said Angel Rodriguez, who had 24 points and five steals against the Blue Devils. “… It’s not going to get any easier but we’ve done it before and that gives us tremendous confidence going into whatever environment we’re going to face.”
Miami continues to be led by the guard trio of Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Manu Lecomte, who combined for 61 points versus Duke while going 8 of 15 from 3-point range. Rodriguez has averaged 24.3 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals and is 10 of 21 from deep in three games versus top-10 teams.
The Hurricanes may not be able to exploit Auguste’s potential absence as it ranks second-to-last in the conference with a minus-0.3 average rebounding margin and starts three guards. However, 7-footer Tonye Jekiri leads the conference with 9.9 rebounds per game.
It’s unclear how 6-foot-10 forward Ivan Cruz Uceda will fit in after being ineligible for the first 16 games due to an NCAA rule that requires enrollment one year after high school graduation. Uceda is a transfer from Harcum Community College.
The all-time series is tied 8-8, though Miami won the teams’ first meeting as ACC foes 71-64 at home on Feb. 19, claiming a 36-26 rebounding advantage. Pat Connaughton had 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting for Notre Dame.
The Irish won the last meeting at Notre Dame, 72-62 on Jan. 28, 2004.