Notre Dame frosh Beachem works overtime to find touch

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-Struggling all season to keep the basket from looking like the eye of a needle, Notre Dame freshman swingman V.J. Beachem may have reached a point where it’s as wide as the Carrier Dome.

Finally.

With a maturity seldom seen from a first-year guy – he carries himself more like a senior who’s played over 100 games than a freshman only 16 contests into his career — Beachem continues to do his work to stay confident that the next one’s going down. That means getting up extra shots at least 30 minutes before every practice. As he fires from the corners, from the wings, from out front and from the free throw line, it’s common for Beachem to rip off five, six, seven straight while barely moving the net.

Practices also have seen Beachem enjoy similar shooting success. Satisfied by nothing, he routinely returns to Purcell Pavilion late at night when even the security guards have gone home. Beachem estimates that he’s been in the Pit – he doesn’t quite know how to work the lights in the main arena when everything’s locked up – sometimes until after 1 in the morning.

“I just know the amount of time that I’ve put in and the amount of hard work that I’ve put in, something will eventually drop,” Beachem said late last week.

Beachem may have known something that few saw coming. His perimeter play - a pair of big 3s and a couple mid-range jumpers – helped Notre Dame erase a nine-point deficit with 18:37 remaining Saturday before beating Boston College, 76-73, on a 3-pointer from captain Eric Atkins with two seconds remaining in overtime.

Had it not been for Atkins’ actions, Beachem may have been the center of the post-game attention. His jumper tied it at 60 with less than three minutes left in regulation. His 3 early in overtime gave the Irish their first lead since late in the first half.

As it was, Beachem was in the locker room lounge to meet media for the first time in his Atlantic Coast Conference career following a career-high 10 points in 20 minutes. He handled the added attention the same way he’s worked through his shooting struggles. Just as he never got too down being unable to make a shot, he wasn’t going to pound his chest after making four.

And that’s good. Though he stands a lanky 6-foot-8 with long arms and an athleticism just scratching the surface, Beachem is the second-lightest Irish on the roster (to the 6-2, 182-pound Atkins) at a willowy 187 pounds.

“I just want to continue to play my game and take my time,” Beachem said. “If I take my time and knock down some of those shots, I can help us out a lot.

“It’s a lot easier now with my teammates making me more and more comfortable.”

Offering something to the Irish cause is easier now for Beachem than it was as recently as three games ago. Given an opportunity early in the Jan. 25 loss at Wake Forest, Beachem looked out of his element. Way out of his element.

Beachem sailed a corner 3 far from the rim to draw jeers from the Wake student section. He had an uncontested look at a layup but fumbled the ball away by trying to lay it in too quickly. And when he stepped to the foul line for the first time in league play, he looked like he didn’t want to be there.

It was the second straight game – the first a two-point loss at Florida State – that Beachem looked in too much of a hurry to help. He lasted only 120 seconds in each road loss.

“I started playing too fast and was in too much of a rush,” he said. “I wasn’t able to make some plays that I would usually be able to make.”

Beachem’s inability to settle down saw his coach get all worked up. Even if he continued to miss, Mike Brey told Beachem, he would get a chance. Even though nothing had fallen for far too long, he would get a chance. Beachem just had to relax and play with the confidence and the consistency that the coaching staff has seen in practices.

Brey was one of the few not surprised at what Beachem did against Boston College.

“It was just a matter of time,” he said. “The kid’s a heck of a player.”

That the head coach has remained confident in Beachem has been big for the Fort Wayne native. Prior to the Boston College game, Beachem had connected on only six of his 32 field-goal attempts, and three of his 18 3-pointers. But with so few options available for Notre Dame (12-10; 3-6 ACC), Brey continues to look far down the bench. He doesn’t hesitate to call Beachem’s number, even though his numbers (1.5 points, 0.6 rebounds, 25 percent shooting from the field, 21.7 percent from 3 in 8.2 minutes), aren’t all that special.

That means a ton.

“It’s great,” Beachem said. “I know that Coach has my back no matter what.”

Beachem has played 14 and 20 minutes in the last two ACC games. He took a big step in the closing minutes of last week’s loss to Virginia. With most fans already heading for home, Beachem took a pass in the corner opposite the Irish bench and, with no hesitation, offered a 3-pointer. The shot looked as soft and as true as few before it.

And it ripped through the net.

That single sequence helped set the stage for Saturday. It also could allow Brey to call on Beachem to do even more Monday against undefeated Syracuse.

“The shot I was able to hit the other night, I just took my time on it and had nothing to lose,” he said. “I just stepped up and was able to knock it down.

“It really felt like, ‘Hey, it can go in.’”

TNoie@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem (3) works against Virginia guard London Perrantes (23) during last Tuesday's game at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)