Feb. 27, 2017
By John Heisler
Irish men’s basketball coach Mike Brey was absolutely thrilled his team returned to the court Sunday night at Purcell Pavilion after eight days between games.
After all, that’s a virtual lifetime for a college basketball team, with all sorts of opportunities for lost momentum for a team on a four-game Atlantic Coast Conference win streak.
When he viewed the final stats from Sunday night’s game against Georgia Tech, he might have wondered why his excitement level had been off the charts.
His Irish shot 35.1 percent from the field (lowest of the season for Notre Dame and only the second time this year Brey’s club has been under 40 percent).
Take away Bonzie Colson (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Notre Dame knocked down only 12 of 43 shots (seven of 26 from three-point range).
That would seem like a recipe for disaster, yet somehow Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 64-60 Sunday night.
And somehow that was enough to move the Irish to 11-5 in ACC play.
It also allowed Notre Dame to bury whatever demons remained from a late January last-second loss at Georgia Tech in a defeat that might have been the most painful of the year for the Irish.
After the game ended in the locker room, Brey asked his team what the win meant for league standings. It was unclear whether Brey already knew the answer or he was teasing and it was for effect. But there was little hesitation. His players absolutely knew they stood tied for second-and that leaves them in good stead in terms of their fight for the double bye (for the league’s postseason tournament that begins a week from Tuesday in Brooklyn) that goes to the top four teams in the final ACC regular-season standings.
“We’re back in it this week and I’ve missed it,” said Brey emotionally before the game.
What he also knew was that Georgia Tech’s trapping zone defense wouldn’t make it easy for his team.
Coming out of four early lead changes and three ties the Yellow Jackets led 13-9 and 15-12 before (who else?) Colson gave the Irish the lead for good at 22-20 at the 8:56 mark. Notre Dame built the advantage to as many as eight points and led at the break by six at 34-28.
Brey loved the first-half defense:
“We’re guarding the heck out of them. Just continue to guard. We’re getting some great looks against their zone-just keep moving it and rise up and take ’em.
“Twenty-eight points! Twenty-eight points!”
The Irish appeared on the verge of running away from Tech multiple times after intermission, but it just never happened.
Beachem’s three-pointer out of a timeout made it 43-34 for the home team at 15:44 and a pair of Matt Farrell free throws at 1:24 gave Notre Dame its largest edge of the night at 60-50.
The Irish made only eight of their 28 second-half shots-but knocked down 14 of 18 free-throw attempts overall and 11 of 14 in the second half. Farrell (17 points) joined Colson in double figures after hitting nine of his 10 free tosses. At one point Tech coach Josh Pastner threw his hands over his head when his team fouled Farrell (again) with the lead at three in the final minute.
Notre Dame missed 10 of 12 shots over one stretch-but Colson always seemed to make a play when it was most needed.
None of that mattered. It was a win.
“Defense, 60 points, our defense was great, fabulous,” Brey told his team when it was over.
“We had to grit it out, we missed some open looks, but we hadn’t been in the battle for a while. I’m so happy we’ve got some games coming at us fast now so we can get back and compete.
Now we’re in it again.
“It was a hard league game, just like we thought, and we defended our butts off to do it. Big time from the free-throw line and we made some key buckets when we had to.
“Guarding got us there.”
Those 60 Tech points represented the fewest this year by an ACC opponent against Notre Dame.
“Let’s just keep taking care of our business and then see where we stand.”
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com