Beachem’s career night leads Notre Dame to victory
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The first time Notre Dame and Milwaukee met, the Irish narrowly edged by the Panthers, 70-69, in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament.
Tuesday night’s game wasn’t nearly as close, but the Irish needed big performances from all five starters on their way to an 86-78 victory over a veteran Milwaukee team.
“[The starters] had to win one tonight,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “They had to communicate on the defensive end, they had to play together offensively, they had to talk through tough stuff. That was good for them.”
Leading the way for the Irish was junior guard V.J. Beachem, who tied his career high with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Beachem said the key to Beachem’s performance was patience.
“I think I was taking my time tonight,” Beachem said. “[I] wasn’t really rushing, and the guys were finding me. Playing with great players that know the game, it makes it very easy for a shooter like me.”
Brey also praised Beachem’s performance, saying his practice is paying off.
“[Beachem has] practiced so well,” Brey said. “He didn’t miss a shot yesterday in practice. … Sometimes I stop practice when a guy is shooting real good because you want to save some of those bullets for the next day. But he had it again today. And his teammates really found him. … I’m excited for what he can be. … Tonight he should feel like he’s a main, main guy for us.”
It was the fourth game in five nights for the Panthers, but they did not appear tired and held Notre Dame’s offense in check early, causing back-to-back traveling violations on junior guard Steve Vasturia and senior forward Zach Auguste early in the game. Milwaukee held an 8-6 lead five minutes in sparked by excellent 3-point shooting as the Panthers went 6-of-9 from behind the arc in the first half.
“I think [Milwaukee] is very good,” Brey said. “I think they’re going to challenge [Valparaiso] for the league championship of their league. They’re hard to deal with. Usually when you absorb 12 or more [3-pointers], you lose those kind of games.”
The game remained close for the rest of the half as each time Notre Dame made a small run, the Panthers answered. Beachem made two consecutive 3-point shots from the top of the key, but Milwaukee freshman guard Jordan Johnson and junior forward Austin Arians replied with 3-pointers of their own to extend the Panther lead to six at 29-23 with 6:14 left in the first half.
The Irish seized control of the game with a 16-2 run over the final 6:14 of the half, highlighted by a third 3-pointer by Beachem and two fast-break layups from Vasturia. The Irish forced four consecutive turnovers during the run and finished the half up 39-31.
Brey said the key to the run was increased offensive production.
“We’re down six, and I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be interesting,’” Brey said. “We guarded enough, but our offensive efficiency was through the roof, and some nights you just have to do that to escape a team that’s really shooting the heck out of the ball.”
The Irish picked up where they left off to start the half, going on a 12-4 run over the first 3:42 of the second half which was highlighted by a fast-break dunk by Beachem and a reverse layup by junior guard Demetrius Jackson.
Auguste, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds, said a more deliberate tempo on offense helped the Irish establish their second-half lead.
“Our offensive tempo was different,” Auguste said. “We slowed things down, we got good shots, and we passed the ball, extra passes. Defensively, I think was most important, we locked in defensively. Guys were rotating, dropping, getting help-side. Just buying into the defensive end I think translated into good offense.”
Notre Dame extended the lead to 17 two minutes later with a monstrous slam by Jackson and then to 20 off a 3-pointer from freshman forward Matt Ryan.
But the Panthers clawed their way back and completed an 16-5 run with seven minutes left to play to make it a nine-point game, but a Beachem 3-pointer and two dunks by Auguste put the Irish back up by 15 as they closed out the Panthers.
Though Notre Dame struggled early for the second consecutive game, all five starters scored in double digits, and the Irish have put up more than 85 points in both showings. Brey said the high offensive numbers come from Notre Dame’s ability to play two distinct styles of offense.
“I thought when our two bigs were in, we ran the right stuff to take advantage of that, which is more of that circle action,” Brey said. “And then when one big was in, and we were four-around-one, the floor was really open, and that was a Demetrius Jackson field day. Go, find, zip, rip, we got shooters and a ball-screen big guy. … That’s real offensive growth for us today. … I think we made some right choices there offensively.”
The Irish look to continue their offensive production against UMass Lowell on Saturday at 2 p.m.