Notre Dame overcomes halftime deficit to snag victory
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, December 3, 2015
After a 12-year hiatus since the teams’ last meeting, Notre Dame gave its conference win in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge after defeating Illinois, 84-79, at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois, on Wednesday.
The Irish (5-2) spoiled the Fighting Illini’s (3-5) celebration of the newly refurbished State Farm Center as junior guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Steve Vasturia each scored 21 points to lead Notre Dame to a strong second half. After shooting just 46.4 percent from the field in the first half, the Irish caught fire in the second half, converting on 57.1 percent of their field goal attempts.
“I thought we played a little fast in our first road atmosphere,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “It was loud, it was electric, and they played great. They played to their crowd. We didn’t do a very good job defensively; we did a horrible job in transition defense. We probably were lucky we were down eight [at the end of the first half]. But second half, we played zone, we stopped the transition, we played great out of our zone, and then our offensive efficiency was fabulous for us.”
Illinois forced the Irish to commit six turnovers early in the first half and limited them to just six assists in the first 20 minutes. Late in the first half, the Illini went on a 14-3 run as the Irish struggled from the field, hitting on just two of their final 11 field goal attempts to end the half.
Senior guard Khalid Lewis, junior guard Malcolm Hill and junior guard Kendrick Nunn all scored seven points to lead the Illini to a 41-33 lead at the end of the first half. In the second half, the script was flipped as Notre Dame limited Illinois to just 35.1 percent shooting from the field. Brey attributed the improvement in the second half to the switch to a two-three zone.
“I think playing zone defense helps us on offense,” Brey said. “They missed some shots; we were able to get some transition and some easy buckets. I thought Demetrius Jackson got comfortable. There was a lot on him. He was recruited by this place, and I thought the first half he played a little nervous and a little fast. I thought he really bounced back and set the tone for us in the second half.”
After scoring just four points in the first half, Jackson was perfect from the field in the second half, converting on all five of his attempts, including two from behind the arc. Vasturia, on the other hand, consistently provided the Irish with offense, scoring 11 points in the first half and adding another 10 in the second. Senior forward Zach Auguste contributed 16 points along with a game-high 14 rebounds, which gave him his fifth double-double of the season.
“I think Zach was great,” Brey said. “I think everyone calmed down in the second half, but you know, when you look at both Vasturia and Jackson, when your two guards are playing like that, you have a chance to beat anybody in the country. [Sophomore guard] Matt Farrell gave us great minutes off the bench. [Junior forward Austin] Torres stole us some minutes. I thought [sophomore forward Bonzie Colson] reacted and rebounded well out of the zone well. Zach’s demeanor, his passes out of the post and his decisions to make power moves were fabulous.”
Despite being outscored by the Illini 32-13 in bench points, Brey praised sophomore guard Matt Farrell’s ability to give the offense a change of pace whenever he takes the court. In 23 minutes, Farrell scored 10 points, six of which came from the free-throw line at the end of the game.
“I think for Matt Farrell, he’s been showing signs of really being able to help us, and tonight he played fearlessly,” Brey said. “He gave us another ball handler that could just take it off the dribble. He made a couple of plays, even in the first half when we were dying for a bucket, he just drove the ball. We know he can shoot it. He made big free throws at the end. I thought he was better defensively, and that’s an area we talked about him improving.”
Through the first 9:45 of the second half, the Illini struggled mightily to find the bottom of the net, converting just two of their first 16 shots. Notre Dame took advantage of Illinois’ offensive woes to take the lead, eventually stretching it to an 80-66 advantage with 32 seconds left.
The Illini stormed back in the final half-minute of the game and went on a 13-4 run to close the game. Hill scored 10 of Illinois’ final 13 to drop the deficit to five points, but there wasn’t enough time for Illinois to rally back in the game as Notre Dame fended off the late comeback attempt to walk away with the win.
The Irish will return to Purcell Pavilion next Tuesday to host Stony Brook at 9 p.m.