Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste fuel come-from-behind victory
Alex Carson | Thursday, January 21, 2016
When Notre Dame needed them most Wednesday night, its captains stepped to the forefront at Purcell Pavilion, leading the effort down the stretch to secure an 83-81 win over Virginia Tech.
The Irish (13-5, 4-2 ACC), who trailed 45-37 at halftime, spent most of the second half trying to catch up — on three occasions, Notre Dame tied the game, but each time, the Hokies (12-7, 4-2) answered to re-take the lead.
“Tonight was the ultimate,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “There was nothing — every time you cut that game to one possession, they made a big play or we fouled and an and-1 or we get screwed up on a matchup and they hit a 3 down the corner. But we kept coming back and kept digging, and I think we’ve grown in that area.”
But when junior guard Demetrius Jackson, the Mishawaka native, completed a three-point play to put Notre Dame ahead, 76-75, with 3:23 left, it gave the Irish a lead they didn’t surrender.
“Especially how the team looks at me this year, they look at me to execute in those situations,” Jackson said. “That last media timeout, [I was] just looking to really be aggressive and create and make some things happen.
“ … [I was] trying to stay within myself, just knowing what I can do, but at the same time not forcing it. If I’ve got an open man, then I’m hitting that open man. … I’m a point guard, so just trying to create, whether it’s for myself or somebody else.”
Jackson hit another layup with 2:06 to play, but Hokies redshirt junior forward Zach LeDay answered with two free throws to cut the lead back to one.
The advantage grew to four — Notre Dame’s largest lead of the night — when Zach Auguste, the senior forward, drove the lane for a vicious dunk, putting the Irish up 81-77 with 1:38 left. Brey praised the leadership of Auguste, who finished with 22 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“I really have liked how he’s led,” Brey said of Auguste. “He has taken responsibility to kinda talk to guys. He was great at halftime, and it was a frustrating halftime. And he was great throughout the second half, kinda being a calming guy and talking positively to guys, and I give him a lot of credit there. He really wanted it for his team, and he went and got it off the backboard to do it.”
Two free throws from Hokies redshirt junior guard Brandon Allen cut the margin back to two before junior guard Vasturia drove for the bucket to restore Notre Dame’s four-point advantage. A LeDay layup on the next possession cut the lead to 83-81, but Jackson couldn’t close the game out for the Irish on the next trip down the floor, missing as the shot clock wound down.
It gave Allen, who finished with 20 points on the night, and the Hokies one last chance — but the guard’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer rimmed out, moving the Irish to 4-2 in league play and giving them a third straight victory.
“I’m very proud of our group to do some really tough stuff to escape with a win because it was one of those escapes in league play, and we’re thrilled to be 4-2, and we’re fortunate to be 4-2,” Brey said.
The Irish head coach praised the play of his three captains Wednesday, each of whom finished in double digits against the Hokies.
“I thought Demetrius and Steve were fabulous just driving at key times after we moved it a little bit,” Brey said. “Zach Auguste was unbelivable. He was a force, he was all over the place, and that’s two games in a row he’s made two big free throws. I think that’s growth for him.”
For the majority of the opening 20 minutes, it was a tight, back-and-forth affair. But after the Irish took a 32-31 lead with 4:05 left in the half, Virginia Tech opened the first significant run of the game to seize an eight-point lead at the half. An 11-1 Hokies run was thwarted by a quick 4-0 spurt from the Irish to cut the lead to four, but Jackson fouled Allen while the latter was heaving a half-court shot at the buzzer, handing Virginia Tech three more points and a 45-37 lead headed into the break.
Changes were necessary for the Irish in the second half, Auguste said, to keep the Hokies from putting up 90; Virginia Tech scored all of its first-half points in the paint, behind the arc or at the free-throw line.
“We had to lock in more defensively [in the second half],” Auguste said. “They’re a great team, obviously they got to the rim easily. We just had to adjust and that’s something that we did.”
Despite redoubled efforts from both the Irish and the Purcell Pavilion crowd after a flat first half, Notre Dame wasn’t able to claw back and take the lead for most of the second half. Big shots from sophomore forward Bonzie Colson, who scored 15 off the bench, and Auguste aided the effort, but whenever Notre Dame pulled close — or even tied the game, as it did at 54-54 — the Hokies had a response.
When Vasturia hit five straight points to tie the game at 69-69, it seemed as though the Irish would finally grab the lead: Junior forward V.J. Beachem forced a steal on the ensuing Hokies possession, taking it coast-to-coast for what would have been the go-ahead layup. He left it short though, and LeDay, who posted a joint-high 22, made the Irish pay straightaway, hitting a 3-pointer to put the Hokies back ahead. The Irish tied the game once more at 73 before Jackson put them ahead for good at 76-75.
“You’re gonna take some punches, but for us to be a great team, I think we’re making great strides and you’re gonna have to take some punches along the way,” Vasturia said. “To win close games like this, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you win ‘em — you gotta win.”
Notre Dame goes for a fourth consecutive win Saturday when it hosts last-placed Boston College. Tipoff is set for noon at Purcell Pavilion.