Irish overcome early deficit to top Hurricanes
Brian Hartnett | Sunday, January 18, 2015
After defeating No. 4 Duke, 90-74, on the road Tuesday, Miami looked prepared to upset its second top-15 team in a week, as it led No. 12 Notre Dame by 12 with 15:06 remaining Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
But a furious second-half shooting spree and comeback run vanquished Miami’s upset hopes and secured a 75-70 victory for the Irish (17-2, 5-1 ACC), marking the program’s best start through 19 games since the 1978-1979 season.
“Man am I proud of my team,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “What a special group we have. [Miami is] really hard to guard. … It was a hard-fought win; it’s great to be 5-1 in the league.”
The Irish welcomed back their third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, junior forward Zach Auguste, who didn’t travel with the team to Georgia Tech due to what Brey termed “an academic matter. But Notre Dame played a game of second-half small ball, switching to a five-guard rotation for the final 15:32 of the game against the Hurricanes (12-5, 2-2).Brey said the team, which had used a similar rotation in late first-half possessions against Georgia Tech and Virginia on Jan. 10, had given the five-guard rotation extra reps in Friday’s practice.
“Your first reaction is we won’t be able to guard or rebound, but heck, we can’t rebound anyways,” Brey said of the rotation. “Why don’t we just play small and have some more firepower on the floor?
“… We got that group some more reps yesterday, and darn if we didn’t need them today.”
The Irish moved to the small-ball rotation at the 15:32 mark of the second half, featuring four guards and sophomore small forward V.J. Beachem who replaced Auguste. At the time of Beachem’s substitution, the Irish were 2-of-16 from beyond the 3-point line and trailed by nine, a deficit that extended to 12 when Miami redshirt junior guard Sheldon McClellan hit a 3-pointer seconds later to stretch the Hurricanes’ lead to 43-31.
Despite the deep second-half hole, the Irish never felt as though they were out of the game, Brey said.
“There’s not really panic or worry or discouragement,” he said of his team. “They really have a strong belief that they will find a way to win. They show signs of being a special team.”
A 3-pointer by sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson with 14:34 remaining began a stretch in which the Irish made seven of their next nine 3-point attempts. Notre Dame had a 3-pointer on its three possessions following Jackson’s make, took its first lead of the day on a 3-pointer by Beachem with 8:53 left and went ahead for good after senior guard Jerian Grant hit a trey with 6:19 to go.
Sophomore guard Steve Vasturia said Notre Dame built confidence after breaking its rut from beyond the arc.
“It’s momentum; it’s confidence a little bit,” he said. “People start knocking down shots, everybody feeds off you. The crowd today was getting loud, so it’s a multitude of things.”Grant, who led the Irish with 23 points and eight assists, said the team’s smaller rotation allowed it to better space the floor.
“I know offensively with having five shooters out there that we were going to get the looks we wanted, spread the floor, be able to drive and if they helped our shooters, kick out for open shots like we did,” he said. “… Defensively, I think having me, Steve and Demetrius out there, we’re going to lock in, and then V.J. and [senior guard/forward] Pat [Connaughton] were rebounding, so I figured we were going to be fine.”
Beachem added 13 points off the bench, while Jackson, Vasturia and Connaughton finished in double figures in points. Connaughton added 11 rebounds to complete a double-double.
Defensively, the Irish held Miami to 35.5 percent shooting in the first half, after which the Hurricanes led 30-29, and 43.9 percent shooting in the game. Notre Dame limited Hurricanes redshirt junior guard Angel Rodriguez, the team’s second-leading scorer entering the contest, to just four points in 31 minutes.
“I thought we wont the game because we were consistent defensively,” Brey said. “In the first half, we were horrible on the offensive end, but we defended well enough to only be down one when it felt like we should be down by 15.
“In the second half, we did a fabulous job on Rodriguez, Demetrius mostly, but we switched some other stuff too.”
Notre Dame freshman forward Bonzie Colson started in place of Auguste, finishing with four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes of action.
Brey declined to comment further on the academic matter that sidelined Auguste earlier this week. Auguste finished with four points and four rebounds in nine minutes of playing time.
Notre Dame will return to the court Thursday, when it travels to Blacksburg, Virginia, to meet Virginia Tech at 7 p.m.