Despite struggling throughout the night on the defensive end, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-5, 4-2) did just enough to knock off the Virginia Tech Hokies 83-81. Notre Dame didn't defend well in transition, and they couldn't stop the pick and roll all game long. Luckily for the Irish, Seth Allen's potential game winning three just rimmed out at the buzzer giving the Irish the narrow win. On the offensive end, however, ND was fantastic, especially in the second half. Zach Auguste was the epitome of Notre Dame's night. He was a big liability on defense allowing VT forward Zach LeDay to score 22 points on 7/11 shooting from the field. On offense, however, Zach scored an efficient 22 points going 8/11 from the floor with an acceptable 6/10 night from the line. He also grabbed a game high 15 boards for his 11th double-double of the season. His and-one on a huge dunk helped ND stay one step ahead of the Hokies down the stretch.
Playing from behind for much of the game, the Irish never trailed by double digits, but couldn't find a way to grab the lead from VT until after the under four timeout in the second half. A strange sequence at the end of the first half was the perfect representation of the Irish struggles. Trailing by nine, Steve Vasturia drew a foul and nailed both FTs with 15 seconds to go in the first period. Rex Pflueger (more on his defense to come) stole the inbounds pass, and found Demetrius Jackson for an easy layup. Instead of taking the momentum into the break, Jackson was whistled for a foul on Seth Allen's half court heave. Allen knocked down all three FTs, and suddenly the momentum was gone and the Irish faced an eight point halftime deficit.
The questionable foul call ended a rough first half for Jackson, but like Auguste, the junior guard was nearly flawless late in the game. Although his jumper on the final Irish possession to ice the game somehow rimmed out, he scored five big points in the last 4:30, and added an assist and a steal. Steve Vasturia struggled a bit with his jumper, but got to the rim multiple times during the game including a big bucket in the game's final minute. Despite playing limited minutes due to foul trouble, Bonzie Colson followed up his huge day at Cameron with another big game. The sophomore had 15 points on 5/8 shooting off the bench. Colson was also the only reliable offensive threat in the first half for ND.
The win leaves Mike Brey with an interesting conundrum. VJ Beachem, Matt Ryan, and Rex Pflueger all played double digit minutes. Pflueger guarded the Hokie point guard on every possession down the stretch (Brey subbed him and Beachem for offense/defense during the game's final possessions). Rex looks to be one of the top Irish defenders on a team that obviously has issues on D; Ryan and Beachem have struggled on the defensive end all season long. While Rex isn't as gifted on offense, his presence doesn't limit the Irish as he can still provide adequate spacing, move the ball, and knock down open looks. On nights were Ryan or Beachem are struggling with their jumpers, (they were a combined 4/13 tonight) look for Rex to get more run.
For all the Irish struggles against the previous 125th most efficient offense in the country, Notre Dame did rebound well. The Hokies were limited to just six offensive rebounds, one of which came on a possession the Irish were playing zone. That said, the pick-and-roll defense was abysmal. VT bigs shot 12/16 from the floor with many of their buckets coming on easy layups after PnR action. While some of this was due to bad individual defense, the Irish frequently looked out of sorts when deciding whether to hedge or switch after a pick. Frequently, Zach Auguste was left to guard a smaller, faster guard on the perimeter after a switch. Just as often, no one pressured the ball while the guard recovered allowing for an easy pass to the roll man. On the possessions the Irish went zone, they still allowed VT open looks.
Even with the negatives, it's tough to complain too much about a league win against a team that's near the top of the ACC standings. Virginia Tech had just one conference loss before tonight, and the Hokies have a win against Virginia on their resume. Outside of UNC, everyone in the ACC seems capable of beating everyone else. With a winnable game against BC on Saturday, the Irish could find themselves in a logjam at third place before next week's trip to Syracuse. Most importantly, however, while playing with house money after the big win at Duke, the Irish found a way to grind out a win.
THE COMEBACK IS COMPLETE. ND 83 | VT 81 FINAL pic.twitter.com/atwW5Z80oZ
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) January 21, 2016