It was impossible to know how they would respond. Short rest. On the road. Coming off a big, emotional victory. 4th game in 9 days. Opponent on the bubble in need of a win.
But for all these concerns entering Monday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-7, 8-4) responded in a big way, emerging with a hard-fought victory in Greenville over a Clemson Tigers (14-10, 7-5) team that refused to go away.
The Irish started nicely on an 11-2 run to start the game, but as was the case all evening, the Tigers fought back. Again and again. Notre Dame actually never trailed in this one but also rarely held a lead greater than the 3-to-9 point margin that they sustained most of the way.
Zach Auguste led the way for Notre Dame with 19 points on a stellar 8 of 12 shooting (and 3-3 from the FT line) to go along with 8 boards. Auguste battled foul trouble early but matched his great energy with a very smart second half to avoid any further issues the rest of the way.
V.J. Beachem also came through with some timely threes (4 of 7 from behind the arc) and 15 points. Demetrius Jackson also was in some foul trouble but hung in there and scored 17 on 6 of 13 shooting.
Jaron Blossomgame might have been the player of the game, though, with his 30 points on 13 of 19 shooting. Avry Holmes (17 points) and Donte Grantham (15) were the only Tigers to join him in double figures.
The Irish took a couple pages from their win Saturday over North Carolina by taking care of the ball (only 5 turnovers) and excelling from the free throw line (21 of 25; 84%). They also defended quite well for long stretches, that is until Clemson somehow poured in 8 of their last 11 shots after they started fouling with the game seemingly out of reach in the final minute or so.
Ultimately, though, getting the win any way they could was all that mattered in a game for which they had plenty of excuses to lose. This game rated as, by far, Notre Dame's most difficult road game remaining and serves as a very quality win that might foreshadow the Road Dawgs' reemergence come March.
Notre Dame was 4-2 one-third of the way through conference season, 6-3 halfway through, and is now 8-4 two-thirds of the way. I'm no math expert, but 12-6 seems like a pretty good bet right now, doesn't it?
At any rate, the Irish and their superb 8-4 record is good for 5th place in the ACC, putting them in control of their destiny for a double-bye that looked incredibly unlikely just one month ago today after they lost to Pitt and dropped to 1-2. The Irish return to South Bend with a date against suddenly-deflated Louisville on Saturday afternoon (4pm EST, ESPN2).