Notre Dame overcomes turnover troubles to best Iowa
R.J. Stempak | Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Notre Dame took down Iowa on Tuesday night 92-78, overcoming 14 turnovers on the night. The Irish victory came as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and improved the ACC’s record in the Challenge to 3-1.
“God, I am excited about our team,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I love my team, there is a great toughness about them, they had game pressure on them, had to do tough stuff to win against a very good offensive team, and I think we grew some more. We grew in Brooklyn and grew in this situation. The thing I look at is the field-goal percentage defense against a gifted offensive team. A lot of guys made big plays to help us win.”
Junior forward and captain Bonzie Colson led the Irish (7-0) with 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Senior guard and captain Steve Vasturia was close to notching a double-double with a 22-point, nine-rebound performance of his own.
Sloppy offense prevented the Irish from capitalizing on a strong defensive performance in the first half. After Iowa secured the tipoff, neither team was able to get on the board until Vasturia nailed a 3-pointer two minutes into the contest. Just a minute later, Irish junior forward Martinas Geben took a seat on the bench after two quick fouls.
The game remained close in the first 10 minutes, with the Irish up 20-17 midway through the half. The Irish were able to extend the lead to 41-26 with just over three minutes left in the half.
Momentum completely stopped for Notre Dame, however, as it did not score for the rest of the half. The Hawkeyes (3-4) put together a 13-0 run, with Hawkeyes senior guard Peter Jok contributing seven straight to close to half. With 11 turnovers and only five assists in the first half, Notre Dame went into the locker room at halftime up by a narrow 41-39 margin. Brey, despite the rough finish to the half, said he knew his team was not going to pull away from Iowa in the first half.
“We deserved to get the dagger on the three in the corner, we were just a mess,” Brey said. “I tried to remind them that you aren’t going to beat a Big Ten team in the first half. They are going to make a run, they are a gifted offensive team, and I said it’s going to take 40 minutes. We had to get off to a good start in the second half, and I am really proud of that.”
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell, who committed five turnovers of his own in the half, said the team had to turn it around come the second half.
“I had way too many turnovers, that’s something I am not happy about,” Farrell said. “I will be better with that. We were getting a little sloppy, and they went on that run to end the first half. We came in the locker room and regrouped and knew we had to take better care of the ball. I think in the second half we did a better job just executing and moving better, and that helped with the turnovers.”
Colson opened the second half with four quick points for the Irish, but his efforts were immediately followed by a 7-0 Iowa run as the Hawkeyes took a brief 52-50 lead.
The Irish immediately rebounded, pulling off a 10-0 run of their own, and did not concede the lead for the rest of the night. Brey said his team’s defense allowed it to take control in the second half.
“We defended early in the half, we got the ball to Bonzie at some spots, we executed some sets and I thought between our offensive execution and our defense, it gave us some breathing room again,” Brey said.
Down the stretch, the Irish converted four-straight field goals, pushing the lead to 81-65. In the final three minutes, Notre Dame went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, ending the day 30-of-33.
“The foul line is an unbelievable weapon for us,” Brey said. “I think we are the best in the country from there. We get there, and then we capitalize when we get there.”
Irish senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem, who was perfect from the line on the night, also said that the team’s free-throw shooting will help the Irish throughout the season.
“The free throw line is a huge weapon for us,” Beachem said. “That’s something, no matter what, we can keep throughout the season and that’s something we plan on doing.”
Notre Dame’s staunch defense gave them the victory, holding Iowa to 38 percent shooting on the night.
“I think defensively, we are ahead of schedule,” Beachem said. “Offensively, I think we can get better. We were really good down the stretch tonight, but finding ways to be consistent with our offense will be big for us.”
Most notably, Notre Dame held Iowa standout Jok to 15 points on 4-of-20 shooting after a 42-point outing in his previous game against Memphis. A combination of Vasturia and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger shut him down throughout the night.
“They were fabulous,” Brey said. “Rex Pflueger was fabulous. He really was chasing Jok most of the night. That is such a luxury, to have that guy come in, know who he is, just guard like a son-of-a-gun. That frees up Steve on the offensive end to take over the game when we needed him to.”
The Irish also controlled the rebounding battle throughout the game, finishing with a 45-32 edge on the boards.
“We knew we were going to find our rhythm offensively, so we just needed to focus on defending better, rebounding better and that gets us going,” Colson said. “Just attack the glass. Every shot, me and Martin [Geben] are attacking and our guards are getting back. Every time a shot goes up, just attack it. Try your hardest to get a rebound and be strong. That’s something Coach wants all of us to do.”
The 7-0 start is Notre Dame’s best since the 2010-11 season, and the Irish will look to extend their winning streak on Sunday against North Carolina A&T at 5 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.