Notre Dame slips past Hokies
Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, January 19, 2014
History was celebrated Sunday night, but it also was almost repeated.
On a night when former Irish coach Digger Phelps was inducted into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor, the Irish avoided back-to-back second half letdowns to win 70-63 over Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame (11-7, 2-3 ACC) snapped a three-game conference losing streak with the victory over the Hokies (8-9, 1-4). The Irish win was the first one in more than two weeks after dropping games to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Maryland.
“Words don’t describe how much we needed this win,” Irish junior forward Pat Connaughton said. “This was the game we needed to come out and get, especially with the home crowd and Digger’s day and everything. Being 1-3 in the league is something where you really need to dig down deep and you gotta get a win no matter how you do it, no matter how much it’s by, no matter how ugly it is, you gotta get a win.”
Sunday’s game marked the 40th anniversary of Notre Dame’s win over UCLA that snapped the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak. Brey said he was using that energy to fuel the Irish.
“My nickname should be ‘Must-Win Mike’ because I’ve been in a lot of these must-wins,” Irish coach Mike Brey said with a laugh. “We really needed this. I was channeling every bit of the 1974 team and the guy with the highlighter. I was channeling all the karma and we needed it.”
Notre Dame led Virginia Tech 39-24 at halftime after they finished the half on a 10-0 run, punctuated by freshman guard Demetrius Jackson’s 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Jackson made every shot (all field goals and all free throws) he attempted in the first half. He had 11 points in the period, including the final eight of the half. He finished the game with 13 points, which tied a career-high.
“He was key for us. He really was,” Brey said. “Got on a good roll, was feeling good, finished the half well with some drives, big jump shot. I think he’s just getting more and more comfortable being a college basketball player.”
The Hokies came out on fire in the second half, hitting eight of their first 10 shots and scoring the half’s first seven points. Virginia Tech went on an 18-7 run to open the half and cut Notre Dame’s lead to four points.
“Each team in this league is going to make their run,” Connaughton said. “Everyone in this league can beat anyone on any given night so it was a matter of weathering that storm. I think we learned from Maryland.”
On Wednesday against Maryland, Notre Dame held a 34-25 halftime lead before the Terrapins outscored the Irish by 17 in the second half in a 74-66 Notre Dame loss.
Virginia Tech later used a quick 7-0 run across 1:06 to close the gap to two points.
“The worst thing for me to do is panic and get tight because our guys would feel that,” Brey said. “Inside, I’m all knotted up but I’m trying to be calm outside.”
But back-to-back 3-pointers by Connaughton and freshman forward Steve Vasturia pushed the Irish lead back to eight and ensured a Maryland-like collapse would be avoided. Virginia Tech never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
Connaughton added 11 points for the Irish in the first half and finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Virginia Tech’s leading scorer Jarell Eddie did not start the game for the Hokies and entered the game with 13:34 left in the first half. He came into Sunday’s game averaging 15.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game while starting all 16 games.
Hokies coach James Johnson said he wanted to settle Eddie down by not starting him Sunday night. Eddie finished the game with two points and four rebounds.
“I think it’s just not going down for him right now,” Johnson said. “He’ll come out of it.”
Hokies freshman guard Ben Emelogu did not play Sunday night, out with an ankle injury suffered during practice Friday. He was one of three Hokies averaging double-figures in points per game.
Irish sophomore forward Eric Katenda played for the first time in his Notre Dame career when he came in with 1:35 left in the first half. He played one minute and received a warm welcome from the home crowd.
“I just wanted to get him in the game,” Brey said. “He’s had unbelievably bad luck on the health side of it. His teammates love him. I thought it was great the crowd really acknowledged him and he did a good job for us defensively in three possessions to end the half.”
Notre Dame will travel to Tallahassee for a Tuesday night matchup against Florida State.