After the game, Mike Brey admitted his team was at a crossroads down 9 to Boston College on their home floor. Before the season, Brey emphasized the importance of protecting their home floor in the ACC, and the Irish were facing a difficult home loss, to a rival school. It could have easily been a nail in the coffin for this challenging season that has had far too many of them.
A 5-0 run by BC to open the second half had ND down 9 and Brey called time. A lot transpired after that timeout, and we'll get in to much of it, but we'd be burying the lede if we didn't let ND's own Screamin' Jack Nolan sum it up how the afternoon ended...
It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty necessary. Notre Dame needed a win and Notre Dame's senior leader, Eric Atkins delivered when it mattered most. I'm sure every Notre Dame player, coach and fan would have preferred Atkins clutch delivery could have come from 15' a few minutes earlier, but as you can hear in the ND radio man's voice, it was a moment this team desperately needed. Beggars can't be choosers.
We spent a good chunk of the week talking about statistical measures of basketball success. Notre Dame won on Saturday so they must have controlled the "Four Factors of Basketball Success," right? Leave it to Boston College to break the rules - it isn't the first time they've altered my preferred reality.
Boston College has been a good shooting team and came in to snowy South Bend shooting over 55% eFG in 3 of their last four games and averaging 53.6% eFG in ACC games. Once again, play the Irish and outshoot your average. Thankfully, the Irish shook off some cold shooting for their best eFG% since FSU. In his post game comments, Mike Brey noted that his team particularly struggled defending late in the shot clock. In a common theme for the season, the Irish struggled to protect their own basket as time ticked down on their opponent, and BC had several good looks with single digits on the shot clock, or were able to get critical offensive boards on late stops. The defensive possession doesn't end until you're firmly in possession of the ball. I'm sure that will be a point of emphasis as the Irish prepare to head up to Syracuse on Monday.
Despite the key timing of some BC offensive boards, the Irish had a distinct overall advantage on the offensive glass and out rebounded the Eagles by 9 overall. Turnovers were a statistical wash, with ND turning it over 9 times to BC's 8. Boston College also outscored ND from the FT line 20-9.
So Notre Dame was slightly outshot, and even though they were outscored from the line by 11 on 9 fewer attempts, all while turning it over at an even rate, they managed to use +10 offensive rebounding advantage to attempt 16 more FG's than the visitors, and that made all the (numerical) difference.
What really made the difference was the fighting spirit in the guys in white. On an ugly, wintry Saturday in South Bend, the Irish dealt with the early tip, some stretches of rough play and a physical opponent in the Joyce Center. There were some fascinating performances worth highlighting.
In his post game press conference, Mike Brey said that freshman V.J. Beachem "joined the club" Saturday. Despite playing "nervous" in previous outings, the lanky Beachem put up 10 points in 20 minutes, most of those in the 2nd half in overtime. Beachem's 2 timely 3's were huge in getting the Irish going and seemed to give the team a spark in addition to giving the freshman more confidence to put it on the floor and make things happen. In addition to a nice stroke from behind the arc, V.J. demonstrated a nice ball fake, with a single dribble and silky-smooth pull up on the offensive end. Let's hope the light is coming on for the talented freshman - welcome to the club V.J.
Beachem's classmates both played significant minutes, but struggled. Demetrius Jackson was aggressive and looked very quick, but only managed 3 points. Those were three critical points, on a put-back with the foul, to cut the BC lead to 3. Steve Vasturia logged 35 minutes on the night and also put up 3 points on 1-5 shooting with 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers.
Junior Pat Connaughton poured in 17 for Notre Dame and had yet another strong floor game. Pat went 4-9 from deep and was the man to break the opening BC run in the 2nd half with a good drive and foul for the 3 point play. Senior Garrick Sherman played only 26 minutes, fouling out in the overtime period, and Sophomore Zach Auguste chipped in 10 points during his 20 minutes of work. Auguste's power move in the post with 2 minutes remaining in OT was a work of art and hopefully a sign of things to come from the big man. However, Auguste's struggles from the FT line could severely limit his future crunch-time minutes. Sherman's limited work only produced 7 points, but he did have 4 assists on a single turnover. He looked much more comfortable working off the double team than he did vs. Virginia.
At the start of the season, Eric Atkins made it clear, in no uncertain teams, that this was his team. The unquestioned leader of the Irish has been brilliant at times, and he was again on Saturday. Instead of settling for jumpers, Atkins continually probed the BC defense and used an array of floaters and mid-range shots to put up 24 points on 59% eFG shooting. Atkins and Connaughton played all 45 minutes on Saturday, and Atkins coughed up only a single turnover. The Irish point guard played his best offensive game of the year. On the defensive end, however, Atkins lost his man for 2 very easy back-cut lay-up's in the first half, and was beat badly off the dribble for a massive BC dunk in the second. This remains an area in need of improvement for the entire team.
Atkins, however, demonstrated his leadership down the stretch in this critical game. With the Irish down 1 and only 7 seconds left on the clock, Atkins pushed the ball down the floor and managed to draw a foul BC's Oliver Hanivan with under 1 second left on the clock. With the Irish only in the 1:1, Atkins stepped to the line and knocked down the 1st FT to tie the game. While he missed the second, stepping to that line and delivering the first to keep the game going was huge. Then again, with the game tied and 35.5 seconds remaining and no timeouts to set a play, Atkins took over. Mike Brey said afterwards that he didn't have a set he wanted to run and doesn't want to "confuse" Atkins in those situations. Brey's approach is just "do it." In this case, the senior from Maryland delivered. Despite a bobble as he rose for his 3 point shot, Atkins buried it, sending the Irish to a much needed victory.
I think you're going to see a lot more ball screens for Atkins in future weeks as Brey indicated he may have "found something" with putting Atkins on the floor with 3-4 shooters to spread teams out and let him attack off the ball screen. More pick & rolls with Atkins and a big man. Great idea coach.
With that, we'll leave you with the sweet dulcet tones of one Jack Nolan and Mike Brey's post-game comments.