In a battle between two teams trending in opposite directions, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish used some hot shooting from beyond the arc to dispose of a reeling Wolfpack team 81-72 on Saturday. The win was the fourth straight for the Irish, who seem to have found their offensive mojo in recent weeks after a tough stretch in January. Here is what we learned from the road win.
The Irish are in a very different spot than the last time they were leaving North Carolina
Around this time two weeks ago, the Irish were leaving Greensboro with a frustrating loss to the Tar Heels after playing an overall solid game. It still wasn’t enough, and their losing streak swelled to four. Since then, the Irish have rattled off four straight wins, and are leaving Raleigh with a much better scenario than the last time they left the state of North Carolina.
At this time two weeks ago, we were discussing how close to the Irish stood to the NCAA Tournament bubble. Now, the Irish stand just one game back of first place with a mostly favorable schedule the rest of the way. What a difference a fortnight makes.
V.J. Beachem can catch fire at any time
We know that V.J. Beachem can stroke it from the perimeter, but Saturday’s performance shows just how deadly he can be when he has his shooting touch. Beachem scored 27 points with a career-high seven three-pointers (also added three blocks on the defensive end). It was a dominating performance to lead the offensive attack and keep the Wolfpack at a safe distance for most of the game.
This is the version of Beachem that Mike Brey and the Irish need come March. There will be times when the Irish meet a solid offensive opponent that causes problems in the paint, and they will need a sharp shooter to provide offense and keep pace with other high-scoring teams. This was a tactic that worked wonders in 2015 against the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC tournament, but the Irish had an even more prolific offense then. Beachem needs to be able to put the offense on his back at times and use his shooting to give the Irish an advantage in games that turn into shootouts.
The Irish offense is back to being a legitimate force
Speaking of the Irish offense, they have now scored over 80 points in every game of this four game winning streak, capped off by Saturday’s win in which they shot 50-percent from the field and 13-30 from downtown.
It is a refreshing sight to see the Irish putting runs together like they did at the end of the first half, when they used a 9-0 to break open a tight game and head to the locker room with a 13 point lead. Their lead grew to as much as 23 in the second half, and when the Wolfpack made their best attempt at a comeback, the Irish used their best friend, the free throw line, to put a stamp on the win.
Four of Notre Dame’s starters finished in double figures. A balanced attack led by a prolific scorer like Beachem will be a great formula for success when the conference tournament gets underway. Defenses had begun adjusting to the Irish offense a few weeks back, and the offense struggled. They will have to adjust again if they are to slow down the Irish down the stretch.