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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame drops third straight game to visiting Duke

| Tuesday, January 31, 2017

No. 20 Notre Dame scored the first points of the game Monday night but could not get much else going throughout the first half against No. 21 Duke.

The Irish (17-6, 6-4 ACC) turned it around in the second 20 minutes but could not regain the lead en route to dropping its third straight game, 84-74.

Irish head coach Mike Brey said he was pleased with the turnaround, suggesting that changes will be made to spark the offense out of the gates going forward.

“I loved our fight in the second half because the first half did not go very well,” Brey said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump. We scored 49 points in the second half, so we really got to consider starting small like we did in the second half.”

The game stayed close for much of the first period despite an abysmal shooting performance from the Irish, as just under 10 minutes into in the game the Irish held a 19-16 lead following a steal and dunk by senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem.

Irish junior forward V.J. Beachem dribbles away from a defender during Notre Dame’s 84-74 loss to Duke on Monday at Purcell Pavilion. Beachem paced the Irish with 20 points against the Blue Devils. Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior forward V.J. Beachem dribbles away from a defender during Notre Dame’s 84-74 loss to Duke on Monday at Purcell Pavilion. Beachem paced the Irish with 20 points against the Blue Devils.

But that dunk — with 8:41 remaining before halftime — was the last field goal in the half for the Irish. To go along with the long field goal drought, the Irish did not tally a single point for nearly four of those closing minutes and reached the break down 37-25.

Uncharacteristically, Notre Dame shot under 27 percent in the half, while the Blue Devils (17-5, 5-4 ACC) converted on over 53 percent of their shots.

An eight-minute field goal drought is nearly impossible to overcome, but Notre Dame almost pulled it off. Regression to the mean sometimes works in your favor, and the Irish started the second half by making 15 of their first 20 shots.

But the possession after Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia was called for a questionable blocking foul and Duke converted the bucket and the following free throw, freshman guard T.J. Gibbs drove to the lane and laid the ball in while drawing a foul.

Much to the chagrin of Mike Brey, who let the referees know his displeasure and earned a technical foul as a result, the foul was called on the floor. Duke converted its two free throws, which was a common theme for the Blue Devils on the night, as they finished 23-of-24 from the line.

The ball kept falling into the basket for the Irish, and the team forced 15 turnovers on the night, turning the mistakes by the Blue Devils into points. With 9:31 left, the Irish took off on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to a single point.

However, that was as close the game got for the remainder of the contest. Notre Dame finished the half shooting 2-of-10. Brey said his team’s strategy of limiting 3-point shots worked, but it was not enough to dig his team out of the hole it dug for itself after the first half.

“With their shooting, you can’t help much,” Brey said. “So guys like [Blue Devil senior forward Amile] Jefferson and [freshman forward Jayson] Tatum inside the arc, you don’t want them kicking out for 3, so you are playing them with just one guy. You hope you can absorb enough 2-point shots and be good enough offensively. That was kind of working, but when they made 3s, the hole was too deep.”

Junior guard Grayson Allen, who finished with 21 points and three assists, and Tatum, who tallied 19 points and 14 rebounds, led the Blue Devils offensively.

The loss marks Notre Dame’s third in a row and fourth in five games after starting ACC play 5-0. One area that has dropped off slightly is the team’s free-throw percentage, as the team went 19-28 from the line Monday.

“That’s something we definitely have to focus in on more and practice,” Beachem said of the team’s performance from the line. “But something like [free-throw shooting] and a couple mental lapses defensively cost us the win. We gave our team a great chance by cutting it to one, but we were just not able to get the lead.”

Irish senior guard and captain Steve Vasturia is in the midst of perhaps the worst two-game stretch of his career, converting only two of his 16 field-goal attempts over the last two games. Brey praised his defense, but hopes rest will help Vasturia regain his rhythm on offense.

“Steve tonight did an unbelievable job on [Duke sophomore guard Luke] Kennard,” Brey said. “And I think his legs on the offensive end showed it. He needs some rest for two days, and he’ll get back in practice.”

Looking ahead, Notre Dame has No. 12 North Carolina and No. 15 Florida State in two of its next three games. Beachem said this recent four-of-five skid is just a road bump, and the team will learn who it is if it can bounce back.

“We still think we are fine. This is going to be a test of how together we are,” Beachem said. “At the same time we are playing in the ACC, so bumps in the road are going to happen like this, and it is all about how we respond.”

Notre Dame is back in action against North Carolina on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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About R.J. Stempak

R.J. Stempak is a sophomore computer science major who enjoys basketball.

Contact R.J.