No. 15 Irish suffer first ACC loss to Florida State
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, January 19, 2017
Just as No. 10 Florida State had their undefeated conference record ended by No. 9 North Carolina on Saturday, the Seminoles (17-2, 5-1 ACC) gave the No. 15 Irish their first conference loss of the season Wednesday night in Tallahassee, Florida.
In each of its previous five ACC matchups, Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1 ACC) used its late-game magic to come away with wins. Against Pittsburgh, No. 12 Louisville, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, the Irish went on explosive runs in the final two or three minutes, which led them to their program-best 5-0 conference start.
Against Florida State, the usual heroics weren’t enough for Notre Dame to hold on to its undefeated record.
Down 79-74, senior captain forward Steve Vasturia drove down the court, pump faked a shot behind the arc, reset his feet and attempted a 3-point shot. However, Seminole freshman forward Jonathan Isaac reached over just enough to get a piece of the ball. Irish sophomore guard Rex Pflueger was able to follow the basketball through the air and get the offensive rebound. Without hesitation, Pflueger sprinted down the baseline towards the corner, quickly turned around and converted a double-clutch 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two points.
After four made free-throws by Florida State, Notre Dame trailed by six points with just 11 seconds remaining. Vasturia took a quick pass from junior guard Matt Farrell and connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the game to bring the margin back down to three points. Florida State’s ensuing inbound pass was then stolen by Pflueger, giving the Irish one last chance to potentially send the game into overtime, but Isaac ended any possibility of an extra period by blocking Notre Dame’s last two attempts near the basket.
“I’m proud of our group,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “We’re really disappointed. We talked about getting into game situations, which we did, but I think you have to give Florida State credit. They had some kids hit some really big shots at key times. We missed a couple of free throws that could have helped us, but our effort was great. Our belief was great. I tried to tell our guys, ‘We need to move on to the next one and flush this because noon Saturday comes quick.’”
In addition to missing a few critical free throws, the Irish struggled mightily to protect the basketball. In the first half alone, Notre Dame turned the ball over 13 times despite averaging 9.4 turnovers per game, which ranks second lowest in the nation.
Amidst the turnovers in the first half, Florida State sophomore guard P.J. Savoy gave the Seminoles a spark to surge them towards a 20-8 run and a six-point lead heading into the second half. Savoy scored all 12 of his points in the run off of three 3-pointers, and sank three free-throws.
Isaac and junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes also made pivotal contributions. Isaac scored a game-high 23 points, hauled in 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Rathan-Mayes went scoreless in the first half, but his eight second-half points were all late, which helped seal their win against the Irish.
Despite committing a season-high 18 turnovers, Notre Dame once again showcased its lethal 3-point shooting converting 15-21 attempts from beyond the arc. Led by Vasturia and Farrell’s 18 and 17 points, respectively, Notre Dame’s small lineup was effective in the second half. Six of Notre Dame’s eight field goals to start the second half were 3-pointers, and with eight minutes left to go, senior forward V.J. Beachem’s fourth and final 3-pointer tied the game at 58.
A minute later, Farrell fired a pass towards cutting junior forward Bonzie Colson, who scored and gave the Irish their first lead since their 23-21 lead in the first half. However, the offensive spark was short-lived. The Irish were held scoreless for over four minutes as the Seminoles went on an 11-1 run to take an eight-point lead.
After the loss, Brey reminded the team that Wednesday night would not be the last time they get to play the Seminoles. He said that it’s important that the team move on from the loss just as they have been able to move on quickly from their victories.
“Everybody really battled,” Brey said. “I’m really proud of our group. V.J., Steve, Matty, again, [freshman guard] T.J. Gibbs coming off the bench giving us stuff. Everybody who played really gave us — those nine guys really know who they are and gave us a chance to win. We’re disappointed, but we gotta get out of here and get some rest because Syracuse comes to town and they’ll be waiting on us.”
Looking to bounce back from their first ACC loss of the season, Notre Dame will host Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday at noon.