Notre Dame men hold off Clemson in 2OT

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND

Confidence seldom has been a concern for a freshman guard who needed all of 32 seconds into his first exhibition some four months ago to take and make his first collegiate 3-pointer.

Nerves? What nerves?

So when Notre Dame needed someone to do something – specifically, connect on a couple shots from deep in Tuesday’s double-overtime grind against a Clemson team it just never could shake - Steve Vasturia figured he could be the guy to do it.

And then he did.

Nerves? What nerves?

Vasturia hit two 3s late in the second overtime to give the Irish the breathing room and the league win they so badly needed in a 68-64 victory at Purcell Pavilion. When it was over, and the Irish had won for only the second time in 22 days, Vasturia had scored 11 points, two shy of his career high, in a career-best 41 minutes.

“Just trying to make an impact, whether it’s knocking down shots or getting loose balls,” Vasturia said of his role. “Anything to help us get a win like tonight.”

Vasturia’s first 3 gave the Irish a one-point lead with 3:42 remaining in the second overtime. His second 3 put the home team in front for good (66-64) with 1:02 left. Both shots finally softened a 1-3-1 Clemson zone defense that caused plenty of late problems.

“I was just excited we were able to take the lead,” Vasturia said.

Notre Dame won for the ninth time in its last 10 overtime games. Prior to Tuesday, its last league win – Feb. 1 over Boston College – also arrived in overtime.

Coming off the bench Tuesday after starting the previous four games, Vasturia played in a way that coach Mike Brey preferred – to forget safe and sound. Get into the lane and drive it, challenge the defense, probe with a dribble, make a play, make two, maybe get to the free throw line, and, in the end, make a big shot…or two.

“He’s really getting good,” Brey said. “He’s starting to look like an upperclassman, and just in the nick of time.”

Able to finally shake free from losing eight of its previous 10 league games, Notre Dame improves to 13-12, 4-8 in the ACC. Clemson slides to 15-8, 6-5.

“We needed a league win and I’m proud we were able to get a league win,” Brey said. “We needed to win this game. We really needed to win this game.”

Tuesday marked the first time this winter that the Irish have beaten a league team with a winning record in conference play. Notre Dame’s only other win over a “quality” conference team was against Duke in the conference opener.

Just when this season couldn’t possibly take any additional twists and turns, it did. Notre Dame played without freshman guard Demetrius Jackson, the former Marian High School standout and McDonald’s All-American who has struggled to find his role and his rhythm during a trying rookie year.

Jackson was not with the Irish for the game, a situation that Brey addressed afterward, but not before a steady stream of speculation surged through social media for two-plus hours.

Was Jackson unhappy? Tired of his yo-yo role? Thinking of transferring? Already gone? Brey put to rest any rumors when he explained that Jackson was separated from the team for a few days so he could get his academics in order.

“It’s real simple – just academic habits,” Brey said. “Put on my high school coach and teacher hat, which I’m never too far (from) and it’s how I handled many guys as a high school coach and teacher.

“You get to come back to basketball when those habits get more consistent. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to help a guy grow up.”

Less than a month into his second semester of college, Jackson could return as early as this weekend in preparation for Sunday’s game at Boston College. It might take a little longer. But Brey is confident that he will return.

“I think Demetrius Jackson is very committed to being at Notre Dame,” Brey said.

Having seen and done and experienced a little of everything this season, this latest round of adversity barely affected the Irish. What’s coming next? What isn’t?

“It comes with the season,” said three-time team captain Eric Atkins. “This is the most I’ve dealt with it, but you’re going to have to deal with adversity and just keep fighting through it.

“The other freshmen (Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, who scored four points in his first career start) stepped up huge tonight so I’m proud of them.”

Another man short – the Irish were down to eight available scholarship players – required someone in home whites to step forward with a big game. So sophomore power forward Zach Auguste delivered one of his best. Active and aggressive for extended minutes on both ends, Auguste finished with his first career double-double. His 14 points tied his season high while his 12 rebounds were a career best.

“It wasn’t much individual, it was an all-around together unit,” Auguste said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and the big thing we’ve talked about lately is consistency.

“I wanted to make myself known publicly.”

The Irish found a way despite not having any answer for Tigers forward K.J. McDaniels. Clearly the best player on the floor, McDaniels erupted for a game-high 30 points on 13-of-24 from the floor. He was unguardable much of the night, and had a chance to send everyone home at the end of the first overtime. McDaniels somehow got free at the top of the key with 0.8 seconds remaining and had a clean look at a 3. It bounced off and it was on to overtime No. 2.

“McDaniels is a special player,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “That performance tonight was remarkable in some ways.”

This one had a whole lot of, here it all goes south again for Notre Dame, which led by as many as nine in the second half and then let a seven-point lead with 2:49 remaining in regulation get away. Notre Dame was forced to work a little extra and a whole lot harder because it couldn’t take care of the ball late in regulation (three turnovers the final 1:40) and then again in the first overtime (two turnovers the final eight seconds).

Unlike past league performances/meltdowns against Maryland and Florida State and Wake Forest, Notre Dame managed to stay together and figure it all out.

“We didn’t panic,” said Irish junior Pat Connaughton. “We just learned from those other games. As tough as it is and you don’t want to learn from games like that because they ended up being losses, it helped us grow as a team.

“We didn’t panic when things started going bad.”

CLEMSON (15-8): Jaron Blossomgame 1-4 0-0 2, K.J. McDaniels 13-24 0-0 30, Landry Nnoko 1-6 2-2 4, Adonis Filer 0-8 0-0 0, Rod Hall 4-10 3-4 12, Jordan Roper 2-6 1-3 5, Damarcus Harrison 2-8 2-2 8, Josh Smith 0-1 1-2 1, Ibrahim Djambo 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-70 9-13 64.

NOTRE DAME (13-12): V.J. Beachem 1-5 2-2 4, Zach Auguste 6-12 2-4 14, Garrick Sherman 3-11 0-0 6, Eric Atkins 6-12 2-2 16, Pat Connaughton 3-10 6-7 13, Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Tom Knight 2-2 0-0 4, Steve Vasturia 3-8 3-4 11. Totals 24-60 15-19 68.

Halftime — Notre Dame 32-27. End Of Regulation — Tied 54. End Of 1st Overtime — Tied 60. 3-Point Goals — Clemson 7-29 (McDaniels 4-8, Harrison 2-6, Hall 1-5, Djambo 0-1, Blossomgame 0-1, Roper 0-3, Filer 0-5), Notre Dame 5-21 (Atkins 2-5, Vasturia 2-6, Connaughton 1-7, Beachem 0-3). Fouled Out — McDaniels. Rebounds — Clemson 40 (McDaniels 14), Notre Dame 43 (Auguste 12). Assists — Clemson 8 (McDaniels 3), Notre Dame 16 (Connaughton 7). Total Fouls — Clemson 18, Notre Dame 14. A — 8,119.

Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem shoots a 3-pointer over Clemson's K.J. McDaniels during Tuesday's game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN