Notre Dame gets revenge against Yellow Jackets at Purcell
Alex Carson | Monday, February 27, 2017
With fewer than four minutes to play and the shot clock nearing zero Sunday night, Notre Dame had nothing going offensively. The Irish had been held to just 18 points in the second half, and if you weren’t junior forward Bonzie Colson, you were struggling from the field.
Perhaps fittingly, then, it took a desperation heave to break Georgia Tech’s lock on the Irish offense.
Falling out of bounds along the baseline, junior guard Matt Farrell threw one up to beat the shot clock. A Georgia Tech defender yelled to let his teammates know the shot would be short.
He was wrong.
Farrell hit the bucket to put Notre Dame up six, and the Irish hung on down the stretch, picking up the 64-60 win over Georgia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
“I saw the shot clock and then I saw the ball bouncing out of bounds, so I just threw it up and right when it left my hands, it looked good,” Farrell said, disagreeing with his defender.
Though the Irish (22-7, 11-5 ACC) soon ballooned their lead out to 10, a combination of missed Notre Dame free throws and Tadric Jackson buckets kept the Yellow Jackets (16-13, 7-9) in the game until the final seconds, when Farrell buried two free throws to seal the victory.
It was a gritty win for Notre Dame, which found a way to win this defensive battle with Georgia Tech; when the teams met 29 days earlier in Atlanta, it was the Yellow Jackets who eked out a 62-60 win at the buzzer.
“One of the things I told them today at shootaround was, ‘We haven’t been in the battles in a while,’” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “And I said, ‘It’s kind of been an easy week. There’s been nothing to frustrate you. So when some frustrating stuff happens, and this game is gonna be a hard game, are we going to be mentally tough enough — like we’ve been, most of the season to be where we’re at — to fight through that and go back and guard, because I knew we’d have empty offensive possessions against them.”
While the final 25-plus minutes were a slog offensively for Notre Dame on Sunday, the first third of the game was anything but. Despite sitting after taking a ball to the face early, Colson scored 12 points over a seven-minute span to push the Irish advantage to 27-20 with 6:46 left in the first half, forcing a Yellow Jacket timeout.
But after that play, Georgia Tech tightened the screws defensively, surrendering just seven points until halftime, and just 25 over the game’s next 23 minutes.
That’s when Farrell’s desperation bucket hit, and the rest of the way, Georgia Tech never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. It may have been different, though, if Colson hadn’t capped another double-double performance with a key block on the Yellow Jackets’ penultimate possession. Instead of sending an Irish player to the line up two with 12 seconds left, Farrell walked to the stripe with just 3.4 seconds left, significantly decreasing the chance of a completed comeback.
While fans might focus on the offensive side of Colson’s 20-point, 11-rebound effort, Brey praised his junior forward’s defensive play after the win, noting the improvement over his career.
“Where he’s really improved is defensively; he’s come so far as a defender since he got here as far as helping his teammates,” Brey said. “ … He talks on defense, he knows what he’s talking about. He can make an impact on both ends and he did tonight.”
Colson, who’s been a double-double machine with 17 this season, said he focuses on sticking to what he does night-in, night-out.
“[I] just continue to play my game,” Colson said. “Every time that ball goes up, I try to crash the glass to get every rebound there is possible. But on the offensive end, just play with confidence and my teammates give me confidence.”
The Yellow Jackets were able to keep Notre Dame at bay, in part, due to their deep repertoire of defensive schemes; a combination that included a 2-2-1 press, a 1-3-1 half-court and traditional man-to-man looks made things tough on the Irish.
“That’s a really good defensive team; they make a lot of people struggle,” Farrell said. “They change defenses constantly; they’re long, they’re athletic.”
Sunday’s victory moves Notre Dame another step closer to a double bye and top-four seed in next week’s ACC tournament. If the Irish win out, the No. 2 seed is likely, while it’s very possible for Notre Dame to finish in the top four even with a 1-1 finish.
The Irish will return to action Wednesday against Boston College for Senior Night, with the Irish set to honor guard Steve Vasturia, forward V.J. Beachem and graduate student forward Patrick Mazza. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.