Mike Brey's vision proves to be Bonzie Colson's reality for ND

Notre Dame's Matt Farrell (5) drives next to Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in South Bend, Ind.

NOTRE DAME — Mike Brey had a premonition Saturday afternoon during pregame shoot-around before his team's critical game with No. 14 Florida State that he had to share with somebody.

The Notre Dame head basketball coach was sitting next to longtime assistant Rod Balanis, watching their team warm up, when one particular player caught Brey's eye — junior star forward Bonzie Colson.

"I actually turned to Coach Balanis and said, 'You think Bonzie can get 40 tonight?'" Brey recalled later Saturday, immediately after his Irish disposed of the Seminoles 84-72 at Purcell Pavilion. "I just felt that good about him."

Brey didn't expand on what he saw from Colson in the hours beforehand to see this effort coming during the game, but suffice it say the coach obviously has the pulse of his team.

Colson — a.k.a. The Junkyard Dog — didn't quite make it to 40 points, but he did hit for a career-high 33, the most for any Irish player in an Atlantic Coast Conference game since Notre Dame joined the league in 2013.

"That was one of the great performances in our program's history against a big-time team on national TV," Brey said of Colson, who also became the 61st player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career. "What a delivery."

Brey's intuition that Colson was ripe for a big night didn't come without warning.

Four nights before the best game of his career against Florida State, Colson enjoyed the best game of his season at the time during an 88-81 win over Wake Forest, scoring 27 points with 16 rebounds and five blocks.

In the last two games, Colson has averaged 30 points and 14.5 rebounds, made 65 percent of his field goals (22-of-34), connected on 13-of-15 free throws, and added 3-of-4 on 3-point shooting for a little demonstration in versatility.

"Right now he is in an unbelievable groove," Brey said. "He's getting in areas where they can't guard him. He's sticking the 3s, making free throws. ...I think he's a strong first-team all-league guy already. But right now, if he keeps this surge up, he'll be in the discussion as much as anybody for player of the year."

Colson scored 20 of his 33 points against Florida State on 7-of-9 shooting during a decisive second half in which the Irish led by as many as 20 points. The all-American candidate also added eight of his game-high 13 rebounds in the second half, finishing with his 16th double-double of the season, which leads the ACC, ties for sixth nationally and defies all anatomical logic.

Playing most of Saturday's game as Notre Dame's lone "big" in the post, Colson — generously listed at 6-5 — faced the tall task of working underneath and crashing the boards against a Seminole roster that features six players 6-8 or taller with a couple 7-footers.

When asked what the secret to Colson's success is, teammate and roommate Matt Farrell admitted to not having a clue.

"I dunno, I really don't know," Farrell said with a disbelieving smile and shake of his head. "He just fits around the rim somehow. The kid amazes me every day. He's so fun to play with, just an unbelievable player, just a great player."

Forever a free-spirit and a team-first guy, Colson downplayed any accolades or attention received after his landslide ACC Player of the Week award last week — the second time in his career that he earned the honor.

Bonzie — who shares the unique first name with his father and jokes it's Swailian for "handsome" — loves the role of being the undersized overachiever who refuses to back down or get outworked.

"I try to bring my energy," Colson said. "People say I'm the Junkyard Dog, I always try to bring that. It's the only way I know how to play."

Colson will try to keep his magical personal run rolling while the Irish (19-7, 8-5) look to extend their two-game team winning streak this week with winnable but difficult back-to-back road games Tuesday at Boston College (9-17, 2-11) and Saturday at North Carolina State (14-12, 3-10), marking the next schedule segment along a push for a seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight seasons.

"I think our fans, because we've been so consistent, just think we'll be back in it again," Brey said. "And I sweat like bullets every offseason, 'Can we get back in? Can we do it again? Can we get back in?' It would be awesome and we are trending that way to be part of this thing again."

Todd Burlage is a freelance columnist covering Notre Dame sports.

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