Let's count the reasons the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-2, 4-1) had to lose Wednesday night in Atlanta. Their best frontcourt player, Zach Auguste, was held out for academic reasons earlier in the day. They had just come off a tough home loss to undefeated Virginia. They were on the road for a conference game. Their opponent was 0-3 in conference, having barely lost those three games, including one in double overtime in South Bend. The parity in the ACC has been made obvious in the last few days.
So yes, while this one will not show up on the resume in March, this was a hugely impressive victory by the Irish over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-7, 0-4). And, even more against the odds, it was the Notre Dame defense that won the day.
The Irish were terrible in the first half. They let up 38 points, including far too many on second-chance opportunities, and found themselves in a well-deserved eight-point deficit at the half.
I wish I knew what Mike Brey said to his team at halftime, but whatever it was had to have been amongst the best halftime speeches he has ever given. The Irish came out with a defensive intensity that we have very rarely seen under Brey. All told, Notre Dame surrendered just 21 points in the second half.
On a night when the offense was struggling to get going with any consistency, to pull a game out like this on the defensive end is what great teams are capable of doing.
Bonzie Colson stepped up in a huge way in this one, taking the lion's share of second half minutes in Auguste's absence, and totaling 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 bloody nose in 22 minutes of work.
Jerian Grant led the Irish with a surprisingly low 12 points, but those 12 included a beautiful step-back jumper with under a minute left to extend the Notre Dame lead to three and help put the game away.
The Irish were balanced, with five players scoring in double figures, as Pat Connaughton (10), VJ Beachem (10), and Steve Vasturia (11) joined Grant and Colson.
Charles Mitchell killed the Irish in South Bend, but it was Demarco Cox who did major damage on Wednesday night. Cox had 17 points for a game-high to go with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Chris Bolden added 13 points off the bench.
This was a major test for the Irish and their short-handed frontcourt, but they passed it with a hard-fought road victory. They return home to South Bend to host the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon at 2pm EST, which will be on ESPN2.
Other Thoughts and Observations:
- Bonzie is not 6'6", and even if he is, he certainly looked the part playing center for much of this one. Points to me for calling this in the Zach Auguste thread earlier.
- VJ Beachem is going to light it up next year for this team. A 6'8" guy who can absolutely stroke it from three? Yes, please. (Not to mention Matt Ryan coming on board next year. Excellent.) Not sure why he can't get more touches in the second half of these games lately.
- These refs were guessing tonight. Sheesh. It's rough out there, all across the country.
- I would've liked to have seen Grant or Jackson try to take over a little more in the first half when things were going downhill. Not dumb shots, like Jackson's long two late in the half, but be more aggressive going to the basket, even if it isn't necessarily within the offense.
- Brey seemed more subdued than usual in this one. I probably would not be saying that if I was in the locker room at halftime, though.
- This game was very similar to the one in South Bend. After a terrible first half, the Irish seemed to take control in the second but couldn't quite pull away, and the Jackets stayed right in it. It's hard after a tough comeback, but it would be nice to put the pedal on the gas and pull away from a team like Georgia Tech.
- Related comment, but offensive execution down the stretch was mostly terrible. This is becoming a trend for this team, and not a welcome one.
- Road conference wins are never disappointing.