The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-10, 12-7) are going to miss Zach Auguste's leadership next season.
That's not a sentence I would have ever expected to type this season, but after another in a growing series of All-American level performances from the Irish center, it is absolutely true and a testament to Auguste's growth.
This latest performance looks good in the box score, a terrific 19 points and career-high 22 rebounds, and even better on film. Auguste was fiery, emotional, flying all over the court, stout on the boards, and composed in the post as Notre Dame mounted its massive second-half comeback.
It was a great day for Auguste, but also yet another day (there have been quite a few these past two seasons) for this program that its coaches, players, and fans won't soon forget. Another postseason that looked like it was going south with it hardly just beginning, the Irish battled back furiously, dominating the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime, to complete a 16-point comeback. But it wasn't just a 16-point comeback; it was a 16-point, second-half comeback against the Duke Blue Devils (23-10, 12-8) in the ACC Tournament. You don't get days like those very often.
Not to be overshadowed, V.J. Beachem had a bit of a national coming out party in this one. After an embarrassing turnover early in the second half, losing the ball out-of-bounds on an easy fast break, Beachem went on to score 13 of his 19 points in the remainder of regulation and overtime. To call these points clutch would be a massive understatement.
There was the three to cut the lead down the 8 with just under 7 minutes left, shifting the mood in the building over to the Irish side. Then there was the three with under 3 minutes remaining to cut it to 1 off a terrific cross-court Auguste feed. How about another to tie it at 70 with a minute left? Then in the opening minute of overtime, he knocked down yet another three to give Notre Dame a five-point lead that they would not relinquish.
More than just the offensive execution, this was a terrific showcase of team defense for the Irish down the stretch. They held Duke to just 30% from the floor in the second half, which included a 7 and a half minute run in which the Blue Devils were scoreless, allowing Notre Dame to get back in the game. Ultimately, the Irish outscored Duke 47-34 in the second half and overtime en route to victory.
Credit Auguste for being hell-bent on controlling the paint (whether or not the refs would cooperate with some questionable whistles) and taking Marshall Plumlee out of the game. Credit Bonzie Colson for doing his best to neutralize Brandon Ingram while still holding his own on the boards (Bonzie finished with a 12 and 12 double-double). Credit Steve Vasturia, among others, for holding Grayson Allen to just 9 points after Allen exploded for 18 in the first half.
At the end of the day, none of Duke's regulars, save for Matt Jones, had an efficient day from the floor, a testament to a dogged Irish defense that, like last year, may be peaking at the right time. Truthfully, if Notre Dame did not lose the ball so often (18 turnovers - twice their season average), they may not have had much trouble winning this one. That they did and came back to win anyway made it that much sweeter.
One final note (as if I needed to tell you): Irish head coach Mike Brey is now 5-1 against Duke and Coach K in the three seasons since Notre Dame joined the ACC. Go figure that one.
Notre Dame will take on North Carolina tomorrow evening (7pm, ESPN) in a rematch of last year's ACC Tournament Finals. We'll have a preview of that one coming tomorrow, but for now, just enjoy this one, Irish fans.