Visiting with members of the New Haven (Ind.) boys’ basketball team on the floor of Purcell Pavilion late Tuesday took Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem back to when he was a standout at the Fort Wayne-area high school.
So did the quick turnaround between Sunday’s loss to No. 8 North Carolina in Greensboro and Tuesday’s much-needed 88-81 win over Wake Forest, a game in which Beachem scored 19 points and made two big 3-pointers at big moments in a sink-or-swim second half.
Beachem and the Irish (18-7; 7-5) snapped a four-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak while on fumes. The demands of two league games in three days not only caught up to them, but also lapped them.
Beachem has seen and done a lot during his college career, but nothing could compare, at least right away, to the demands he and the Irish endured after a water-main break in Chapel Hill forced the game with North Carolina to be moved back day and 50 miles away to Greensboro.
“This is the most tired I’ve ever been, maybe since AAU when you’ve got three games in a day,” Beachem said as he sat on a black leather love seat inside the team lounge and stretched out his 6-foot-8 frame. “Man, it’s been tough. Everybody was tired.”
Even while Notre Dame faced North Carolina in as high-energy a game as the Irish have played all year, coach Mike Brey was thinking about how to get his team back for Tuesday against much-improved Wake Forest.
It was so on Brey’s mind that when his team trailed by 13 points with 12 minutes remaining against Carolina, he seriously considered pulling the playing-time plug on Beachem and the rest of the starters. He thought hard about going with the blue team – the reserves – the rest of the way to conserve his team’s energy for a Tuesday game that was closing quickly.
“I would have four guys mug me in the huddle probably,” Brey said of what would have happened had he put that plan into action.
Brey stayed with the starters, who cut Sunday’s deficit to two with under four minutes remaining. The Irish lost by seven before Brey fielded all of three questions in his post-game presser. He apologized for the short session, but just wanted to get the heck off Tobacco Road, get on the charter flight and get back to campus so his guys could get some rest.
Prior to the game being pushed back a day, the plan had been for the Irish to return to campus late Saturday night, have a light practice Sunday, and enjoy an Italian dinner at Brey’s home while they watched the Super Bowl.
Spaghetti and meatballs at the coach’s house shifted to pizza and wings in the team lounge with the game on the big screen after the Irish returned Sunday evening. That plan allowed players to also seek cold-tub and training room treatment.
Other than light shooting drills Monday, Notre Dame did next to nothing on the practice floor to prepare for Wake Forest. Even shooting was a chore. Brey said he noticed Beachem cringe every time he rose to release his jumper. Everything seemingly ached.
That soreness lingered into Tuesday’s shoot-around.
Four starters all logged at least 35 minutes as the Irish scored 88 points, their season high for a conference game.
“Those guys were dead,” Brey said of the starters. “We fought through some stuff with some mental toughness.”
Asked afterward about Saturday’s home game against No. 14 Florida State, Beachem didn’t want to even think that far ahead. Not yet. Not after going through that grind.
“Right now, everybody just needs some rest, then we’ll come back Thursday,” he said. “It’s all worth it to get a win and get back on the right track.”
On Sunday, Brey stewed over the ACC not allowing Notre Dame to move the Wake game back a day and instead forced the Irish to navigate playing two games in three days for the second time in as many weeks. By late Tuesday, he was happy with an extra day to prepare for what’s coming at week’s end.
“Now that you won, I love it,” he said. “I’ll sit back, put my feet up and watch Florida State (Wednesday night).”
Coming off Sunday’s 48-point wipeout of Clemson, Florida State hosted North Carolina State on Wednesday.
Tuesday closed a cluttered stretch of four games in 11 days for the Irish, now in a run of three games over the next 18.
• Power forward Bonzie Colson registered his league-leading 15th double-double against Wake with 27 points and 16 rebounds. It’s the fourth time in the last six ACC games that he’s gone for at least 10 and 10. He leads the league in rebounding at 10.8, 11.3 in league games.
• Notre Dame carries a 27 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a 27 strength of schedule (SOS) and a 20 Basketball Power Index (BPI) according to latest numbers at ESPN.com. Last year when the Irish went 24-12 and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, those numbers were 32, 6 and 31.
• Colson will become the third Irish (behind Beachem and fellow senior captain Steve Vasturia) player to hit for 1,000 career points this season. He’s at 981.
• Notre Dame jumped back into first place in the nation in foul shooting at 80.7 prior to Tuesday’s game. The Irish then went 17-of-21 (81 percent). They rank only third in the ACC in foul shooting for league games at 76.4 percent.
• The Irish have been out-rebounded by an average of 12.6 in each of the last five games. They’ve been outrebounded in nine of 10.
• After committing three turnovers the first 4:31, Notre Dame finished with seven – its fewest in nine games when it had six in the Jan. 12 win at Miami (Fla.). The Irish average 9.8 per game, second fewest in the nation behind Michigan (9.5).
• Tuesday was win No. 374 for Brey in his Notre Dame tenure. He’s 20 away from eclipsing the school record of 393 set by Digger Phelps.