Georgia Tech outlasts Notre Dame in men's hoops road test for Irish

South Bend Tribune

ATLANTA — Lingering somewhere in the catacombs of McCamish Pavilion early Saturday afternoon, senior guard Eric Atkins wandered out of the Notre Dame locker room, wandered in a circle and allowed his reddened eyes to wander to the ceiling.

Atkins likely also let his thoughts wander and wonder to what he might have been able to do differently in the closing seconds of the school’s first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference road game. Unable to make a key free throw before firing a quick 3-pointer while looking for a whistle that never arrived, Atkins and the Irish were left with a 74-69 loss to Georgia Tech.

Losers of two straight ACC games, Notre Dame falls to 10-6; 1-2. Georgia Tech snapped a two-game league slide to improve to 10-6; 1-2.

Atkins finished with 20 points, four assists and two steals. Two Irish — Pat Connaughton and Garrick Sherman — had double-doubles for points and rebounds. Connaughton went for 10 and 10 while Sherman, maybe fighting the early karma effects of shaving his overgrown red beard, labored to 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Sherman missed his first nine shots before finally finding a flow, along with the Irish, in the second half.

“Can’t hit a (freakin’) shot,” Sherman said afterward. “I just kept playing my game. I knew they were going to go in. I just had to flush the first half and come back and play the second half.”

Fighting uphill all afternoon, Notre Dame had opportunities to figure it out in the final 10.6 seconds. Sent to the foul line with two free throws and the Irish down 70-68, Atkins missed the first and made the second.

“I just missed that first one,” Atkins said.

Even when Georgia Tech guard Chris Bolden converted two free throws with 9.2 seconds remaining to make it 72-69 and set up the interesting final sequence, the Irish had a chance. Rushing the ball up the floor, Atkins heard someone from the Georgia Tech bench yell to foul him. Crossing halfcourt, still well beyond the 3-point line and believing a Yellow Jacket defender had put both hands on him to prohibit him from shooting a 3, Atkins fired the ball toward the rim. A whistle would have given him three free throws.

There was no whistle.

“I felt like (the Tech defender) put two hands on me,” Atkins said. “As soon as you do that, I guess it was a foul so I shot it.”

No basket. No foul. No chance.

“That’s probably almost a little bit of outthinking yourself, especially on the road,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Let’s get the thing down the floor and drive it and kick and see if we can get a 3-point shot.

“You at least wish you’d get a look.”

Four Yellow Jackets scored double figures led by Trae Golden’s 20.

“You can’t ask much more of Trae than what we got,” said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory.

Chris Bolden added 14. He was shooting 24.2 percent from 3 coming in for the league’s worst 3-point shooting team prior to Saturday (29 percent). Bolden then went 4-of-8 from deep.

“I’d take that every night,” Gregory said. “He’s been putting in a lot of time.”

The Irish awoke Saturday to rumbles of thunder, spring-like temperatures and tornado warnings in the Atlanta area, then operated in the city’s Midtown as if they were still fighting the deep freeze that brought everything to a standstill back in Indiana earlier in the week. Georgia Tech scored the game’s first six points and built a 10-point lead the first 4:18.

Notre Dame was scrambling.

That scramble continued in the second half. The Irish showed signs of getting it together the first 20 minutes — runs of 10-2 and 7-0 helped bring the visitors back within two points on separate occasions before intermission. But just as the start of the first half was a problem, so was the second.

Georgia Tech led by four at the break and rode an 8-1 run the first 3:55 to go up by 11. The Irish deficit eventually ballooned to 15, which tied the largest of the season.

“To start the game and start the half, it sure didn’t look like we were going to have a chance at anything,” Brey said. “When you’re digging out of those holes, it’s exhausting and sometimes you almost don’t deserve to win the game because how you started the game and how you started the half.”

Unable to find a lineup combination to spark the Irish, Brey decided on a different route. He burned a timeout with the Irish down 11 and 11:40 remaining, then did nothing but lay into his guys. Sherman was yelled at for his failed attempt at leading a fast break. Zach Auguste was barked at. Even Atkins was sent to sit on the bench.

By the time the 30 seconds were up, Brey had used none of it to strategize. Only scream.

“It catches people’s attention,” Connaughton said. “It shouldn’t come to that. We’re college basketball players at Notre Dame. We shouldn’t have that get us jump-started, you know?”

But it did. Building off two consecutive baskets before Brey’s boil-over, including Sherman’s first, Notre Dame ran off nine additional unanswered points for a 13-0 run. Less than five minutes after trailing by 15, the Irish were down two.

Less than three minutes later, an Atkins bucket capped the 18-3 spurt and tied it at 57, the first time it was even since the opening tip. The Irish kept chipping away, kept going small, kept getting stops, went a little zone and moved the ball with a plan. And when Connaughton drained a fade jumper on the left side of the key, the Irish were up for the first time, 64-62. It was their largest lead.

“We had the floor spread and got some really good stuff,” Brey said.

Fifth-year Irish senior Tom Knight did not make the trip after suffering a sprained ankle Thursday in practice. His absence left Notre Dame with eight available scholarship players. With no Knight and no combination seemingly going right, Brey leaned heavily on reserves Austin Burgett (a career-high 11 points with five rebounds in 21 minutes) and Steve Vasturia (five points, five rebounds in a career-high 23 minutes).

“We were searching for 30 minutes on who we were, how we were going to play,” Brey said. “You kind of found it the last 10 minutes and you thought it was going to be enough.”

NOTRE DAME (10-6): Pat Connaughton 4-11 1-1 10, Zach Auguste 3-6 0-0 6, Garrick Sherman 6-18 1-1 13, Eric Atkins 6-13 5-7 20, Demetrius Jackson 2-5 0-0 4, V.J. Beachem 0-2 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 5-10 0-0 11, Steve Vasturia 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 28-70 7-9 69.

GEORGIA TECH (10-6): Marcus Georges-Hunt 2-10 4-6 9, Jason Morris 0-3 0-0 0, Kammeon Holsey 6-9 1-2 13, Daniel Miller 4-9 2-3 10, Trae Golden 8-11 2-5 20, Chris Bolden 4-11 2-2 14, Quinton Stephens 3-9 2-2 8, Corey Heyward 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-63 13-20 74.

Halftime—Georgia Tech 39-35. 3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 6-24 (Atkins 3-6, Vasturia 1-3, Burgett 1-5, Connaughton 1-8, Beachem 0-2), Georgia Tech 7-21 (Bolden 4-8, Golden 2-3, Georges-Hunt 1-4, Morris 0-3, Stephens 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Notre Dame 40 (Sherman 12), Georgia Tech 41 (Miller 13). Assists—Notre Dame 17 (Connaughton 7), Georgia Tech 17 (Georges-Hunt 6). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 18, Georgia Tech 13. A—7,727.

Eric Atkins, left, steals the ball from Georgia Tech's Daniel Miller, right, during the first half of an ACC matchup Saturday in in Atlanta. AP Photo/DAVID GOLDMAN