It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. It was never more than a ten-point lead until the final buzzer.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-8, 10-5) muddled their way through what should have been a fairly stress-free game but ultimately managed to come out on top. Behind some confident free throw shooting down the stretch, the Irish were finally able to put away a Wake Forest Demon Deacons (11-17, 2-14) team that refused to just go away all evening.
Credit to the Deacons for keeping it close and staying in this one every time it looked like the door was cracked for the Irish to pull away. But Notre Dame has no one to blame but itself after a second straight disappointing offensive showing, low-lighted by 13 turnovers and just 4 of 18 from behind the arc.
Player of the game probably has to go to Zach Auguste who, despite 5 turnovers, compiled his 15th double-double on the season, going for 18 and 12. More than that, however, was Auguste's 8-for-8 night from the free throw line, including 4 of those in key moments late in the game when the Irish needed them the most.
Demetrius Jackson is equally deserving as, after a scoreless first half, he finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists to just 1 turnover when the rest of his teammates were giving the ball away all night. Steve Vasturia has 16 points but finished with 5 turnovers, many of them in key spots in the 2nd half.
There were plenty of issues, however, all over the rest of the Notre Dame roster. V.J. Beachem was 3 of 4 inside the arc but 0 of 4 outside of it on a night when the Irish just needed a couple threes to fall to keep the floor spaced and put some distance between them and Wake Forest.
Matt Ryan chipped in 2 threes right away but got caught in foul trouble and passed up too many looks. Rex Pflueger needs to bring more offensively at this point. And Bonzie Colson has quietly gone just 12 of 30 (40%) in the last four games.
This just was not a great night for the Irish despite the win, as a 44% night from the field against one of the worst defensive teams in the ACC has to be seen as a disappointment and potential source of concern as the postseason approaches. Even KenPom would suggest as much; despite Notre Dame remaining the top adjusted offense in the country, the Irish have come back to the field fairly dramatically in the last two games.
Still, the Irish was an outstanding 85% from the free throw line and did what they could not do on Saturday: keep their cool, stay tough defensively, and close out a pesky opponent. They did also hold Wake Forest to just 32% from the field. The Deacons' only saving grace on that end was that their bricks just kept landing in the strangest places, allowing plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities to keep their offense even remotely passable.
Notre Dame heads to Tallahassee without a return visit to snowy South Bend for Saturday afternoon's game against desperate but flailing Florida State (4pm EST, ESPN2). A win there keeps the Irish on track for a 12-6 conference record that would likely give them a double-bye for the ACC Tournament.