Sophomore forward Austin Burgett’s strong performance in Sunday’s loss to Indiana State nearly earned him a spot in Friday’s starting lineup against Santa Clara. Although it was fifth-year senior Tom Knight who started, it was Burgett who finished and made a compelling case for more minutes in an 84-69 win over the Broncos.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey started the second half with Burgett on the floor in place of Knight, who did not play in the final 20 minutes and has totaled 15 combined minutes the past two games. With Burgett’s energy — mostly out of a small lineup with junior Pat Connaughton, seniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins and freshman Demetrius Jackson on the floor — the Irish (3-1) outscored Santa Clara (2-2) by nine in the second half to win easily.
Burgett played 22 minutes and scored six points, grabbed 10 rebounds and recorded two assists, one block and two steals.
“I felt good,” Burgett said. “Coach told me at halftime and told me I had Tom and that I needed to come out and play the way I was with the flow of the game going and get on the boards.
“We matched up really well with that group. We really can run, get the ball out and defend and everything. I think we really got in a good flow.”
Burgett and Jackson combined for a mini 8-0 run to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 69-53 in the second half. Jackson started the sequence by sinking a 3-pointer. Burgett followed with a dunk the next possession and Jackson capped off the sequence with an old-fashioned three-point play.
“[Jackson’s] 3-point shot [after he] makes the play for the loose ball … [that] was a game-pressure three,” Brey said. “That may have been the most enjoyable play of the night for me because it was like, ‘Wow, our young guy just had to make one at a key time and did.’ We want to build on that, we want to build on Burgett.
“[Burgett is] active and he gives us good stuff. He’s all over the place. We don’t want him to stuff the turnover [stat], but he’s active. He’s fouled out of two games, I don’t care. … He’s really a key for us. We’re still learning about our team. I hadn’t played that lineup much, but it was really good tonight and we learned some more about our group.”
After struggling on the boards in the season’s first few contests, Notre Dame outrebounded Santa Clara 42-25. In addition to Burgett’s low post contributions, fifth-year senior center Garrick Sherman provided a boost for the Irish with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“Sherm scoring in the post was a key tonight,” Brey said. “We need something down there. He’s our best candidate as a low post scorer. We’ve gotta get him confident. He’s gotta score for us down there. For him it was a good night too.”
Brey added that he has not yet determined a starting lineup for Sunday’s game with Army.
“Who knows. We’ll talk about that,” Brey said. “[Freshman guard Steve] Vasturia and [freshman forward V.J.] Beachem didn’t get a chance tonight, but they’re gonna be in there too before this thing is over. Our small lineup was very good tonight. It’s the first time with the lights on that group having to make some plays and I was really pleased with it.”
The Irish and Black Knights meet Sunday at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.