Irish use hot start to cruise past Wolfpack
Manuel De Jesus | Monday, February 20, 2017
It’s probably safe to say that No. 25 Notre Dame has locked in a spot for the NCAA tournament next month. The Irish (21-7, 10-5 ACC) secured their 10th ACC victory of the season Saturday defeating North Carolina State 81-72 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
With the win, Notre Dame also recorded its fifth conference road win of the season, this one over a Wolfpack (14-14, 3-12) squad that recently fired its head coach Mark Gottfried, who will continue to coach until the end of the season.
Irish head coach Mike Brey acknowledged the importance of the 10th conference win right before returning to South Bend for the last two home games of the regular season.
“I’m thrilled,” Brey said. “For this group to get to 10 league wins in this week, this year, and five road wins, which guarantees a road winning record … it’s a heck of an achievement. I love our bye-week timing. We need a little bit of rest to get refreshed for the stretch run.”
Brey also applauded how Notre Dame took care of business on the road, displaying its strengths on offense against a struggling Wolfpack defense.
Carrying momentum from their three-game winning streak, the Irish offense was hitting on all cylinders in the first half of the game. Senior forward V.J. Beachem and junior forward Bonzie Colson led the charge scoring 10 points each. Beachem converted two of his three 3-point attempts while Colson connected on all five of his field goal attempts in the first half.
The Wolfpack kept the game close through the first 10 minutes of the first half behind sophomore forward Maverick Rowan’s four points and freshman center Omer Yurtseven’s six points. However, with a little over eight minutes left in the half, the Irish significantly extended their lead with a 19-9 run.
Beachem started the run with a 3-pointer, which was followed up with back-to-back jumpers from Colson. Sophomore forward Matt Ryan, who came off the bench, also contributed to the run with two straight 3-pointers. With 56 seconds left in the half, a pair of free throws from junior guard Matt Farrell extended the Irish lead to 13 points.
Despite shooting 59.3 percent from the floor in the first half and having a lead as high as 23 points in the second half, Notre Dame allowed N.C. State to make a run of its own to cut the deficit.
Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. and freshman guard Markell Johnson scored 22 of the Wolfpack’s 44 second half points, and in a span of about seven minutes, N.C. State went on a 21-10 run to cut the Notre Dame lead to just 10. Smith scored 10 of his 16 points during that run.
While it looked as if the Wolfpack were going to make the game competitive again, Colson put a halt to their momentum with a layup and a made free throw. Beachem’s seventh 3-pointer and senior forward Steve Vasturia’s four free throws ended any opportunity of a N.C. State comeback.
“We did get out of the gate well,” Brey said. “We talked about that [asking], ‘Could we get off to a good start?’ I thought they’d have a run, and they did. They’re a gifted offensive team. I loved our poise. We didn’t get rattled, and, again, we made big free throws to get out of here.”
In addition to Beachem’s 27 points, the Irish also got a lift off the bench from freshman guard T.J. Gibbs, who scored all of his seven points in the first half. Ryan added six points, and senior forward Austin Torres added another four points along with two rebounds.
Notre Dame is now on a four-game winning streak, which moves it to fourth place in the ACC. Before playing its final three games of the season, the Irish will benefit from having a full week of practice and rest before its next game against Georgia Tech.
“We need a little rest and a little break from the routine,” Brey said. “My goal is when we really get back into our practice routine on Thursday, we feel like it’s October and we have really fresh legs and minds.”
Notre Dame will face off against Georgia Tech for the second time this season Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.