When V.J. Beachem soared in for a crucial block in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime in Pittsburgh, you couldn’t help but think back to an almost identical block by former Irish guard Pat Connaughton to force overtime against Butler in the 2015 NCAA tournament.
It would be a senior who was a part of that 2015 team to lead the Irish through overtime to give the Irish a big win to open up ACC play.
Steve Vasturia drilled two clutch three pointers in the extra period to propel the Irish past the Pittsburgh Panthers for a 78-77 win, giving the team their first win in the steel city since 2013.
Pittsburgh, looking for their fourth straight win, had been leaning on the three-point shot for much of the game, but Vasturia caught fire at the most opportune time to give the Irish the win. It certainly did not come easy.
Turnovers continued to haunt the Irish in the first 20 minutes of play, committing six turnovers in the first half. The Irish are tops in the country in turnover percentage, but had coughed the ball up 14 times in each of their past two games heading into conference play. The normally well-disciplined Irish committed 10 turnovers in their last appearance at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers stretched their early lead to as much as 11 thanks to the hot shooting hand of Michael Young, who entered the contest averaging 22.8 points per game. Young shot 3-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, giving the Irish a taste of their own medicine.
Irish junior Matt Farrell responded with some hot shooting of his own to get Notre Dame back in the game. Farrell (3-4 from three in the first half) and the Irish were able to tie the game late in the first half, but a breakdown on defense to end the half resulted in a last second bucket by Panthers’ senior Sheldon Jeter to give Pittsburgh the lead heading into the locker room.
Farrell carried his three-point stroke into the second half, drilling a triple with just over nine minutes remaining to give the Irish their first lead since the opening minutes of the first half. Farrell’s three was part of an 11-0 Irish run to put the team up eight, capitalizing off of Pittsburgh turnovers as the Irish looked determined to rewrite their season script of fading out in the second half. Farrell would finish the game with 16 points, shooting 4-7 from the three-point line.
However, the Panthers quickly responded with five straight points to pull within three, and would eventually tie the game with 3:33 remaining in the second half thanks to Young’s continued sharp shooting, and after another Irish turnover, Jamel Artis knocked down three of his 25 points for the Panthers to put his team up five, providing the exclamation point on a 10-0 run for Pittsburgh.
The Irish would claw their way back to tie the game, and when Pittsburgh flirted with a game-winning three in the closing seconds of regulation, V.J. Beachem flew in to block the baseline triple and force overtime.
The Irish quickly found themselves down five in overtime, but a Vasturia triple cut the deficit to two, and after a crucial defensive stand, the Irish found themselves in position to force double overtime or steal a road win.
Farrell lost his balance driving into the paint, but somehow hurled a bounce pass from his knees to Vasturia behind the arc, who drilled his second triple of the overtime period with 2.5 seconds remaining, effectively silencing the Pittsburgh crowd. Vasturia finished with 15 points, with his final six being the difference in the game.
Bonzie Colson filled up the stat sheet for the Irish, recording another double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Young and Artis each finished with 25 points for the Panthers, keeping up with their season averages of 20+ points per game.
The week ahead will not be any easier for the Irish, as they return home to face sixth ranked Louisville on Wednesday night. The Panthers will look to begin a new winning streak against Virginia in another tough home matchup.