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Men’s Basketball

Carson: Irish finally assemble complete performance

| Monday, January 23, 2017

If you wanted to be a pessimist, by and large, you could’ve found something to be upset about in each of No. 15 Notre Dame’s big wins this year. You had the 15-2 run the Irish surrendered late at Pittsburgh before escaping; the blown double-digit leads against Northwestern, No. 12 Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech; the slow start against Clemson.

“Winning those kinds of games are unsustainable against better teams,” you might say, and you’re probably right. Because at some point, trying to win every game on a late Steve Vasturia bucket might come back to haunt you.

But by and large, Notre Dame (17-3, 6-1 ACC) hadn’t really shown the ability to get out to a big lead, hold that lead, then finish strong against another major-conference opponent.

Junior Irish guard Matt Farrell dribbles up the court in Notre Dame's 84-66 victory over Syracuse on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Farrell had 15 points and nine assists in the game. Michael Yu | The Observer

Junior Irish guard Matt Farrell dribbles up the court in Notre Dame’s 84-66 victory over Syracuse on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Farrell had 15 points and nine assists in the game.

That is, until Saturday.

For the first time all season, Notre Dame put together a complete 40-minute performance against a quality opponent. And, perhaps for the first time since November, V.J. Beachem put together a complete 40-minute performance.

I think the correlation on those two things are pretty solid.

If Notre Dame was to be good this year, it would be because Beachem, the senior forward from Fort Wayne, Indiana, rose up and became the key player. It made sense — with Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste gone, there were holes to be filled, and Beachem’s performance last March made him a perfect candidate to step up.

But when the Irish ran into then-No. 1 Villanova in December, Beachem struggled: four points in a 2-for-11 shooting day from the floor. He managed just 10 points in the loss to No. 21 Purdue the next weekend, then six and two in the wins over Pitt and Louisville. A four-point performance against Virginia Tech followed a few games later.

Coming into Saturday, Beachem was averaging just 10.2 points per game in ACC play — a stat more fitting of a role player, not the No. 1 option.

He finally looked like that top option Saturday, pouring in 30 points, corralling seven boards and putting together his best performance yet in an Irish jersey in the 84-66 win over Syracuse (11-9, 3-4). Granted, playing against a 2-3 zone really benefitted Beachem — believe it or not, it’s easier to score when you’re not being followed around by your opponent’s top defender — but if he can carry this momentum forward for the rest of the year, there’s nobody in the country Notre Dame can’t beat.

It might be fitting, then, that Beachem’s big day overshadowed yet another pair of brilliant performances from Notre Dame’s most consistent players: guard Matt Farrell and forward Bonzie Colson. Throughout this season, the junior duo’s been there when Beachem and Vasturia aren’t getting shots to fall — and they’re the two keys to why Notre Dame sits at 17-3, not something closer to 13-7. For the 12th time this season, Colson grabbed himself a double-double (14 points and 14 rebounds), while Farrell nearly ended up with one of his own, scoring 15 and adding nine assists.

I’ve all heard a lot of chatter about Farrell being one of the nation’s most improved players this season — Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim joined the chorus Saturday — and it’s not completely unfounded. But if you were following the Irish last March, I think we should be smart about what we’re surprised about in Farrell’s play.

When Irish head coach Mike Brey threw Farrell into the starting lineup during the NCAA tournament last year, it was a move that had the potential to make or break Notre Dame’s season. But that insertion helped take the Irish from a No. 6 seed with sudden turnover problems to a gritty, poised team making its second Elite Eight run in as many years. Without Farrell, Notre Dame wouldn’t have made it to the regional final last year — let alone past Michigan in its first game — and a lot of the national discourse around Farrell seems to forget that.

Yes, Farrell drives the ball well, has great court vision and is a good, scrappy defender. Yes, he did those things well in the NCAA tournament last March.

On the day David Rivers was inducted into the Ring of Honor, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Notre Dame has yet another great point guard running the show.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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