Irish survive cold first half to overrun Demon Deacons
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, February 25, 2016
In the second contest of its three-game road trip, Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest, 69-58, on Wednesday night, to avoid losing two straight games for the first time in nearly two years.
Similar to many of their recent games, the Irish (18-9, 10-5 ACC) played strikingly different halves. In the first 20 minutes of the game, Notre Dame converted just 38.2 percent of their field goal attempts. The Demon Deacons (11-17, 2-14) held junior guard Demetrius Jackson completely off the scoreboard in the first half, but junior guard Steve Vasturia carried the load for the Irish, scoring eight points on strong drives to the basket.
In the second half, Jackson and senior forward Zach Auguste led the charge, combining for 27 of the 41 points scored in the second half for the Irish. Despite tough interior defense from freshman forwards Doral Moore and John Collins, Auguste scored a team-high 18 points and pulled in 12 rebounds. Auguste recorded his 15th double-double of the season, second in the ACC.
“It definitely was a tough win on the road today,” Auguste said. “But we executed down the stretch when it counted. Demetrius had great leadership and stepped up in the second half. We had a great second half. We had to rely on the defense, and that’s what we did and it helped us get a big-time win on the road. Now we’re just looking forward to going down to Tallahassee and picking up another one.”
Irish head coach Mike Brey praised Auguste’s performance. He said he believes the senior captain is picking up momentum late in the season, similar to his performance late last year during Notre Dame’s run to the Elite Eight.
“I think [Auguste is] playing as good as or better than any big guy in the league,” Brey said. “We were talking as a staff that this was about the time last year where he started to kick it to a new level. Fabulous tonight stepping up. Eight for eight from the foul line. Getting every big rebound. I think he’s one of the best big guys in the country, and he’s playing his way into the NBA as well.”
Despite Auguste’s strong play in the second half, Wake Forest kept it close late in the fourth quarter, cutting a 10-point Irish lead down to four after a layup by Collins. However, Notre Dame’s smothering defense forced the Demon Deacons to miss seven of their final nine shots. Wake Forest went 11-of-35 from the field in both halves.
Collins, who made his first career start, scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down four of Wake Forest’s 18 offensive rebounds. The team also received 13 more points from its bench than Notre Dame, but the Demon Deacons only converted just 10 of their 17 free throw attempts in the second half, while the Irish, after not attempting a single free throw in the first half, hit 17 in the second.
“I’m really proud of our group,” Brey said. “We had to defend to win tonight. Their field goal percentage was 31, and we weren’t in the best of offensive rhythm, but of course we made big shots and, man, did we hit big free throws when we had to.”
Brey said he was particularly impressed with an Irish defensive effort that held Wake Forest to under 60 points. Notre Dame is ranked 135th in scoring defense, but Brey said he was pleased with the way the defense held its own Wednesday night.
“I’m just so pleased with our defense,” Brey said. “To have them to hold [Wake Forest] to 58 points and 31 percent, that was the story. It’s great to have 10 league wins, and it’s great to know you’re going to the NCAA tournament.”
Notre Dame finishes its road trip on Saturday as the team travels to Tallahassee, Florida, to take on Florida State at 4 p.m.