Permit me to begin at the end here.
There was never even a thought of rushing the court. Top 10 teams don't rush the court. We EXPECT to win. Duke is just the latest victim.— Leprechaun Legion (@LepLegion) January 29, 2015
Right on Lep Legion. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team is ranked 8th in the country, playing a conference game at home vs. a team behind them in the standings. Outstanding work by the Legion to keep the floor clear and respect our place in the league.
Mike Brey talked about establishing an identity in the ACC after developing a consistency in the challenging Big East. The word just about anyone would use to describe the Irish halfway through this ACC campaign is "toughness." The Irish are a study in mental toughness. Staring down a double digit second half deficit, a legendary coach fresh off an unmatched milestone, and an immensely talented big man having a career night; Notre Dame got tough. They clamped down and decided to defend, defend, and defend some more. Duke brings an offense nearly as efficient as our own, and when it mattered most, the Irish locked them down. The story of this game was the stretch form 10:59 left in the second half, when Jahlil Okafor scored his 17th point to put ND down ten to the 5:29 mark when Okafor made a layup for his 19th point. During that 5:30 stretch, Notre Dame allowed Duke nothing, nada, bupkis. Over that same 5:30, Mike Brey's team went on a 12-0 run to erase that deficit and take a 2 point lead.
Honestly, I'm not sure when I've seen a more entertaining college basketball team. This game had a whole lot of everything. Lead changes, runs, shotmaking, defense, strategy changes, unsung heroes, etc. If you somehow missed it, we've got the FIDM highlights at the end of this post, but seriously, go to WatchESPN and grab the replay.
The Lep Legion had Purcell Pavillion absolutely bouncing from the start, and ESPN's Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale both noted the noise level and electric feeling in the air. The first half was marked by some cool shooting from the Irish and sloppy play from both sides. Notre Dame was 4-11 from deep, despite getting some very open looks, and the teams combined for 15 turnovers. Many of the Irish turnovers came when they rushed things. Notre Dame quickly erased any doubt that they could hang with the ACC blue bloods as they built a 7 point lead just over halfway through the first half on a deep Jerian Grant three. As expected, Duke wasn't going to just fold up and go away. The Devils managed to erase that lead by halftime and went in to the locker room up three. In that first half, Okafor nearly put up a double-double with 11 points and 9 boards.
Notre Dame was unable to slow Okafor down in the second half either, and they quickly found themselves in a 10 point hole. The Irish rushed a few shots and committed another inopportune turnover, and the game took on a very precarious feeling. Duke pulled down the offensive rebound when Marshall Plumlee missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Tyus Jones hit a wide open 3 to put the Devils up 10. Mike Brey called a timeout shortly before the under-12 media break, and coming out of that break, Steve Vasturia came up with a steal that led to a tough Demetrius Jackson layup. Okafor scored on the ensuing possession, but that's when the Irish went in to lockdown mode. The Irish contested 3's, forced turnovers, and secured defensive rebounds. The Blue Devils had 13 offensive boards on the night, but none during the 12-0 run that got the Irish back in the game.
Okafor managed a bucket at 5:29 to cut the run and another with just over four minutes to regain the lead for Duke at 69-67. As critical as the big man was in getting Duke the lead, his poor FT shooting hampered him down the stretch. He went 1-for-2 with the score tied at 69 and missed both when he had a chance to put Duke up 3. Instead, Steve Vasturia calmly hit 2 FT's to give the Irish a 70-71 lead that they would not relent. It was Vasturia's corner three late in the shot clock that put the Irish up by four and put the Irish in a position to close. Up 4, Grant made a huge block on Quinn Cook to get the ball back for ND. The very end wasn't pretty with ND missing 3 out of 4 late FT attempts, but thankfully none of it mattered as Mike Brey and his guys sang the alma mater in front of their adoring crowd with massive smiles on their faces.
FINAL INFOGRAPHIC: #8 ND 77 - #4 Duke 73 ND Notes: -Pat w/ double- double -Coach Brey now 2-2 vs Coach K pic.twitter.com/TTJ2xliQrK— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) January 29, 2015
Any discussion of Notre Dame's performance on the evening has to start with Jerian Grant. With a number of pro scouts in attendance, here's Jerian's stat line on the night: 23 points on 9-15 shooting (3-4 from deep) and 3-4 from the line, 12 assists, 6 defensive rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. The man earned himself some cash Wednesday night. All due respect to Okafor, who is a singular talent, Grant was the best player on the floor. Grant didn't have to come off the floor because of his FT percentage. The ball was in his hands the entire night, and time and time again he made the right decision and, occasionally, the spectacular play. Irish fans should stop to appreciate the performance Grant is giving night in and night out.
The Irish captain had a rough night that included a pretty good knock to the head when he tumbled over Duke's Plumlee. Despite that, Pat Connaughton finished with 13 points, shot 50% from deep and pulled in 12 rebounds (9 defensive). A solid double-double from a great veteran leader. It isn't difficult to imagine that the toughness and mental resiliency of this team stems from these two seniors. You can't understate the value of having 2 mature, calm, experienced leaders with such amazing wills to win. Their spirit permeates this whole team.
Speaking of spirit, welcome to the show Bonzie Colson. Our Alstein has been singing the praises of this guy long before he stepped on campus, and Bonzie made him look like a genius on Wednesday. The freshman put up 8 points and three boards, but that stat line hardly reflects the overall impact he had on the game. His toughness and spirit were a big lift, particularly when foul trouble hampered Zach Auguste. Despite only being able to log 22 minutes, Auguste managed to put up 14 points and pull down 6 rebounds. The junior big man looked very good when he was playing with energy and moving around the perimeter. He was a beast on the screen-and-roll game and a willing rebounder. Many will question a few of his shot selections, but overall Auguste was a big contributor.
V.J. Beachem is still struggling a little with his stroke, as evidenced by his 0-2 from the line late in the game, but he did manage to provide one of the evening's best highlights off the bounce. He absolutely skied for a massive 2 hand jam. It is great to see V.J.'s confidence in his game grow. He's got the skills to be very dangerous off the bounce and the springs to finish at the rim. Throw it down big fella!
No review of the Irish performance could be complete without Steve Vasturia. The guy was 1-5 from the floor, but here's the one:
Steve Vasturia's 3-pointer with 1 second on the shot clock: pic.twitter.com/HFcPU518Wi— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) January 29, 2015
and here's the close-up
It is hard to understate the cojones it took to launch that corner J when it hadn't been falling for you, but Vasturia just calmly knocked down the biggest shot of the night. He's justifying Doris Burke's gushing from earlier in the season. The dude just makes plays.
On the other side, Jahlil Okafor went 10-18 from the floor but only 2-7 from the stripe to log his 22 points to go along with 17 rebounds and 3 assists. He's truly a man among boys right now with his unique blend of size and athleticism, but the Irish managed to employ the "don't let anyone else kill us" technique that worked for NC State against Duke earlier. Senior Quinn Cook finished the game with 15 points and freshman Tyus Jones with 14 on identical 5-11 shooting performances from the floor. Cook did his damage with 13 in the first half, and Jones sparkled in the 2nd. Despite thinking Demetrius Jackson could rattle Jones, he finished the game without a single turnover. Fellow freshman, Justise Winslow shook off injury woes to put up 13 points that included 9 from behind the arc. What really jumps out in the Duke box score is how badly their bench hurt them. Plumlee, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Matt Jones combined for 5 points on 2-10 shooting with 3 turnovers and 5 fouls.
Wrapping It Up
We'll take some time later this week to break down some tape and pour over the advanced stats from this game, but let's just spend a little time soaking in how great of a game this was. Here are your FIDM highlights:
This was a fantastic win by a very unique Notre Dame basketball team. It puts them in an excellent position in the ACC standings and leaves Duke with a high sense of desperation and urgency as they head to Virginia this weekend to try to get their coach unstuck off the 1,000 win mark. Irish fans, however, can bask in our second consecutive ACC victory over the Blue Devils.