Irish hold off rival BC
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, February 5, 2015
For much of the first half Wednesday, it seemed that No. 10 Notre Dame had put its 76-72 upset loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday far behind it.
For parts of the second half, however, it seemed that a repeat of last weekend’s loss wasn’t out of the question.
Nonetheless, the Irish (21-3, 9-2 ACC) held on, riding a hot start and strong first-half defensive effort in order to survive a lackluster second stanza and defeat Boston College, 71-63, at Purcell Pavilion.
“I’m thrilled how we bounced back [from the Pittsburgh game],” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We talked about that for two days, bouncing back.
“… I thought the first 10 minutes, what we were doing offensively was off the charts, and we combined it with really solid defense to give us kind of a big cushion that we eventually needed.”
Notre Dame led the game wire-to-wire, as senior guard Pat Connaughton hit a jumper seconds after the opening tip and never let up. Connaughton provided an early spark for the Irish, scoring 10 of the team’s first 16 points to put Notre Dame up 11 with 13:56 remaining in the first half.
From there, Notre Dame’s lead ballooned to 25 points, as the Irish held the Eagles (9-12, 1-8) without a field goal for over an eight-minute stretch, and the Eagles didn’t reach double-digits until Boston College graduate student guard Aaron Brown hit a 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the half.
“We were in a heck of a rhythm, and it was beautiful basketball, the way we were moving and scoring and different guys doing it,” Brey said of his team’s first-half play. “When you’re in that good a rhythm offensively, it does help your defense because it demoralizes the other team a little bit. … And I thought our offensive efficiency didn’t have them in a very good rhythm because they’re thinking, ‘God, what do we need to do to get a stop.’”
While Notre Dame’s early success propelled it to a comfortable lead, it also proved unsustainable, Brey said.
“[The lead] got to 25 so fast, you worry about concentration and focus a little bit,” Brey said. “… I never expect a league game to be easy.”
Notre Dame, which shot 55.2 percent from the field and went 7-for-12 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, saw its halftime lead erode to 16 points after Boston College graduate student guard Dimitri Batten banked in a half-court shot to end the first frame.
That lead continued to shrink in the second half, as the Eagles upped their offensive efficiency and slowed down the Irish attack.
“I think they switched up their defense a little bit more,” Irish senior guard Jerian Grant said of the Eagles’ second-half play. “I feel like we missed some good looks. We were moving the ball offensively well, got some good looks.”
After several low-scoring stretches of the half, Boston College closed within single-digits on a 3-pointer by junior guard Olivier Hanlan with 2:58 to go. Hanlan hit two more 3-pointers on the next two possessions to close Notre Dame’s lead to 67-61 with 1:47 left. Hanlan finished the game with 28 points, going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.
“Offensively, [Hanlan] got hot,” Grant said. “They made some shots. Overall, I think we could have probably played him a little better, but he made shots. He’s a great player.”
But the Eagles would get no closer, as a fast-break dunk by sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson, his only made field goal of the game, put the Irish up eight with under a minute to go.
Despite the late surge by Boston College, Notre Dame was never under any sense of panic, sophomore guard Steve Vasturia said.
“I think we felt under control,” he said. “We’re always confident we’ve got the opportunity to win the game.”
Grant and Vasturia finished as the high scorers for the Irish with 17 points apiece. Junior forward Zach Auguste added 16 points and five rebounds, while Connaughton totaled 11 points. The 6-foot-1 Jackson led all players with 10 rebounds.
Brey said games like Wednesday night’s matchup fit in with his philosophy of steadily improving for March.
“On Monday, we came in and our whole theme was ‘February improvement for March success’; this is a month we need to get better,” Brey said.
“… Certainly [the] No. 1 [priority] was the defensive end of the floor, especially after Saturday. I thought we really digested that and wanted to do that, and so that’s going to be our theme: ‘February improvement.’”
Notre Dame will look to continue its improvement when it heads to Durham, North Carolina for a rematch with No. 4 Duke on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.