Back in the mix: Jackson, Vasturia lead Notre Dame to comeback victory
Manuel De Jesus | Monday, February 15, 2016
For the second Saturday in a row, Notre Dame overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to claim a victory in front of a sold-out crowd.
Only this time, the Irish (18-7, 9-4 ACC) rallied largely behind the efforts its junior guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia to take down No. 13 Louisville 71-66.
Jackson tied his career-high with 27 points against the Cardinals (19-6, 8-4), with 20 of those points coming in the first half. Vasturia picked up the offensive load in the second half scoring 15 of his 20 points.
“[We were] just attacking and going downhill trying to create [shots] for ourselves and for others,” Jackson said. “With their defense, we had a lot of opportunities to attack. So we just wanted to take advantage of that, not be passive and just stay within ourselves and play our game, which is getting to the bucket and attacking.”
Despite being down by as many as 11 points, Notre Dame found a surge of offense in the second half that put it on a 13-5 run over the final six minutes of the game. It began with Vasturia penetrating the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked scoring defense on two straight possessions midway through the second half. It then snowballed into a 3-pointer by Vasturia and layups by junior forward V.J. Beachem and Jackson.
The Irish connected on seven straight field goals, which was capped off with an emphatic slam by senior forward Zach Auguste to take the lead for the first time in the second half.
Notre Dame’s stellar offense in the second half was accompanied by an equally dominant defense. The Irish held the Cardinals to just 29.2 percent from the floor in the second half after allowing 48.5 percent of their shots to connect in the first. Graduate student guard Damion Lee, who averages 16.5 points per game, led the Cardinals with 13 points. All four of his made field goals were 3-pointers.
Lee had an opportunity to tie the game with 15 seconds left in the game, but missed on an off-balance 3-point attempt. Beachem missed a free throw on the other end, however, giving Lee another opportunity with just a few seconds remaining, but he missed again. Auguste drained two free throws to seal the win after pulling in the rebound.
“I talked to my team on Thursday as we got ready for this matchup that so much would be made of the best offense in the league, us, against the best defense in the league,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I said, ‘You know, I would really like the story to be about our defense and would love to come off the floor at [6 p.m.] with our defense being the difference.’ And the second half, to hold them to 23 points and rebound the way we did, I thought that was the key to the game.”
In the first half, the Irish struggled to find any offense inside the paint which gave Jackson the green light to be aggressive from beyond the arc. Jackson tied his career-high with five made 3-pointers by halftime to keep Notre Dame in the game. Jackson buried another shot from beyond the arc in the second half to push his final count to a career-best six 3s.
“I think I just shot myself into it today,” Jackson said. “I was just stepping up confidently, in rhythm just trying to shoot shots. I tried to find the areas to pick my spots.”
Auguste had a double-double on the night adding 11 points and hauling in 12 boards, and sophomore Bonzie Colson scored eight points and brought in another 10 rebounds to help Notre Dame win the rebound battle 40-29.
With three straight wins over North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville, Brey said he is convinced that the team’s identity has been solidified.
“We have been really cruel competitors this past week, and I couldn’t be prouder,” Brey said. “When we sense it, we go for it and we know how to finish. Last year’s team did that. This year’s team had not shown that really until last Saturday. We had to do it in [Greenville, North Carolina] and we had to do it again tonight, so I’m excited about that aspect of us that personality of our team coming out.”
At 9-4 in ACC play and tied for third in the conference standings, the Irish are in position to clinch a double-bye in the ACC tournament next month. No. 9 North Carolina sits atop the conference at 10-2 in ACC action and No. 12 Miami (Fla.) sits alone in second at 8-3. Brey said he believes his team can also make a serious run at the regular season title, though.
“What I’ll talk to them about tomorrow is not so much the NCAA tournament, because obviously our resume after today is extremely strong, but now you’re getting into that double-bye territory and now you’re getting into that,” Brey said. “But why not talk about a regular season championship? Last year’s team chased the regular season title till about the last week of the season, and so why not chase that? I think those are the things we’ll come back to.”
The Irish will have a week off to rest before starting their final road trip of the regular season in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on Saturday.