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Men’s Basketball

V.J. Beachem’s 30 points propels Notre Dame over Syracuse

| Monday, January 23, 2017

Notre Dame came out in the first half on Saturday like they have many times this year: perfect free-throw shooting, a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and most importantly, a large first-half lead.

The Irish (17-3, 6-1 ACC) shot over the Syracuse zone and held the Orange (11-9, 3-4) to 37 percent shooting in the first half.

Early leads are common for the Irish, as they were up by five at the half against Villanova, up by 14 against Purdue and more recently, up eight against Virginia Tech. The team went on to drop two of those games and narrowly win the third, and has been unable to put together a complete, dominant performance over a major conference opponent so far this year.

That changed for the Irish in the game against Syracuse, dominating the full 40 minutes and taking home a 84-66 victory.

Irish senior forward V.J. Beachem sizes up two Syracuse defenders in Saturday's 84-66 win. Beachem had a career-high 30 points in the win.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish senior forward V.J. Beachem sizes up two Syracuse defenders in Saturday’s 84-66 win. Beachem had a career-high 30 points in the win.

From the beginning of the game, it was clear No. 15 Notre Dame was going to be a difficult matchup for Syracuse. The Irish got out to a 12-4 lead with a pair of 3-pointers early in the first half.

After a short lull in the action, the Irish broke the game wide open with back-to-back dunks by senior captain V.J. Beachem.

The pair of dunks set the stage for a brilliant performance by Beachem on the night, who feasted on the Orange’s 2-3 zone, finishing with 30 points and seven rebounds. Junior point guard Matt Farrell made sure to get the ball to Beachem as much as he could, while also finished the game with nine assists and 15 points.

“I told V.J., ‘This is your night man, I am looking for you. Just shoot it when I get it to you,’” Farrell said. “We were excited to play against [the 2-3 zone]. A big point of emphasis for us was getting the ball below the free-throw line, and we did that a lot. It’s hard to guard us when we get in there because everyone can shoot.”

Beachem embraced the opportunity to play the zone, happy to focus on finding cutting lanes and spotting up for open jumpers rather than having a single man chasing him around and pressuring him the entire 40 minutes.

“I felt energized and I felt good,” Beachem said. “All the guys were finding me, and it didn’t hurt we were playing against a zone, too. The fact that they had to respect the drive opened up the outside shot for me. We were really anxious to play against [the 2-3 zone]. The way we play offensively, we knew we would be fine against it, but other teams struggled. It was a great day shooting the ball and driving the ball.”

Notre Dame finished the day 11-for-26 on 3-point attempts, shooting 49 percent as a team from the field and 15-for-16 from the line. The team has shot this well before, but has not had such a dominant win. It was on the defensive end where Irish head coach Mike Brey was most impressed, as the team held Syracuse to just above 40 percent from the field.

“I really think our defense was the key today,” Brey said. “I was pleased to see us get back to defended. We were really at attacking their zone. We have a lot of basketball IQ guys that can pass, catch and make a shot. That’s the recipe for being able to successfully attack a zone.”

With a big game from Beachem, the team now has four players who have shown throughout the year that they can carry the team’s offense when needed. Brey said the whole team is propelled by Beachem’s success when the forward is scoring.

“V.J. was fabulous,” Brey said. “A great win for us, to get to six wins in the league. When we can get him flowing like that, it is a confidence-giver to his teammates, there is no question about that.”

The team will have this win to boost their confidence going into Tuesday, when the Irish face No. 16 Virginia. The Cavaliers are the only remaining ACC team Notre Dame has yet to defeat since joining the league in 2013. Farrell credited the team’s short memory in being able to bounce back from their Florida State loss, saying it will be just as important when coming off a big win.

“You got to have a short memory, especially in [the ACC],” Farrell said. “You are not going to go undefeated, so we just had to bounce back. We have another big game on Tuesday so we have to have a short memory about this one too.”

Notre Dame is set to host Virginia on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

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About R.J. Stempak

R.J. Stempak is a sophomore computer science major who enjoys basketball.

Contact R.J.