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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame stomps Wichita State, advances to Elite Eight

| Friday, March 27, 2015

CLEVELAND — One of the nation’s most efficient offenses looked decidedly average.

All-American guard Jerian Grant hadn’t hit a shot in more than 20 minutes, and Notre Dame had just committed a shot-clock violation, barely threatening with a good look.

Wichita State waltzed down the court and snatched its first lead of the game early in the second half. Irish head coach Mike Brey watched seven seconds of the next possession before signaling for a timeout.

“We’ve been here before. Little did I know it would be another lightning strike,” Brey said of the timeout. “It was a flat-out lightning strike.”

Junior forward Zach Auguste throws down a dunk over Wichita State on Thursday night. Auguste had 15 points in the 81-70 victory.Kevin Sabitus | The Observer

Junior forward Zach Auguste throws down a dunk over a Wichita State defender Thursday night. Auguste had 15 points in the 81-70 victory.

From there, No. 3 seed Notre Dame (32-5) buried 15 of its next 17 field goals and never looked back in a second-half stomp of No. 7 seed Wichita State in the Sweet 16, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979 with an 81-70 win over the Shockers on Thursday night in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena.

“They’re really cruel competitors,” Brey said of his team. “When they feel a little blood in the water … they go for it again, and I think that’s why they’re special and playing for a regional championship on Saturday.”

A 13-point first-half lead eroded into a one-point deficit at the start of the second half, and Notre Dame cooled from beyond the arc. But following Brey’s timeout with 16:28 remaining in the second half, the Irish transformed back into the free-flowing offensive juggernaut that has carried Notre Dame to the most wins in program history since 1908-09. Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall called the Irish “hands down” the best offensive team the Shockers faced all season.

“They just shot the cover off of it, in reality,” Wichita State redshirt junior guard Ron Baker said. “I’ve never seen a team shoot it like they have today.”

Notre Dame shot 75 percent (18-of-24) from the floor and 3-point range (6-of-8) in the second half.

Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson, who Marshall called the “catalyst,” ignited the squad with a pair of 3-pointers after the timeout. Sophomore guard Steve Vasturia weaved a beautiful bounce pass to senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton to finish off a give-and-go. Jackson lobbed an alley-oop to junior forward Zach Auguste.

Clinical. Surgical. Textbook. Unending.

“I’ve never seen a one-point lead get out of hand so quickly,” Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall. “And it did tonight because of their firepower.”

Jackson powered the Irish with 20 points, while Connaughton (16), Auguste (15) and Vasturia (15) all reached double figures, too.

“They just shot layup after layup it seemed like,” Wichita State junior guard Fred VanVleet said. “We just, for whatever reason, couldn’t stop them.”

The Shockers struggled to find an offensive rhythm, as well. Notre Dame limited Wichita State to 36 percent shooting in the first half, and the Shockers connected on just three of their 18 3-point attempts.

“That’s been the story of our six wins in the postseason,” Brey said, referring to the 3-game stretch in the ACC tournament before the recent run in the NCAA tournament. “We’ve really defended the arc well.”

Though the offense thrived after Notre Dame’s early timeout in the second half, Connaughton said the defense set the tone.

“It wasn’t about strategy,” Connaughton said. “We talked about defense, about getting stops and getting out and running. That’s the fun way to play and that’s the way that we’re at our best on both ends of the floor.”

Notre Dame stormed out to a 13-point lead in the game’s opening five-plus minutes, as Jackson buried two 3-pointers and Pat Connaughton added another. But the Irish soon went cold from long range, missing their final seven tries of the half.

Baker buried a pair of 3-pointers to lift Wichita State within three, and VanVleet added 10 first-half points with an attacking mentality. Notre Dame carried a 33-30 halftime lead into the locker room before exploding after the break.

“I just don’t want it to end for this particular team because this group has been so energizing and so fun to be around,” Brey said.

The Irish will face the winner of No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 5 seed West Virginia  in the Midwest Regional Final on Saturday in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike