Notre Dame men's basketball gains traction on road, tops BC

South Bend Tribune

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Even deep under the Conte Forum stands, down a congested and noisy hallway a turn or two away from the main floor, the cheers could be heard.

Those roars, not long after Notre Dame had made school history Sunday, could only mean that the guy so many of the locals had come to see, the guy who had promised earlier in the day that it would be a special evening for so many reasons and then delivered with a special effort, had emerged from an arena tunnel.

Irish junior captain Pat Connaughton needed more than 400 tickets for family members and friends and former teammates and more friends for his first college basketball visit to Boston College. Then with a little help from his teammates, Connaughton made sure all those people went home happy, and had reason to smile wide for the postgame picture in the arena stands following a 73-69 Irish victory.

“That’s the definition of a man,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “He comes home, you’ve got 400 people in the stands, most people are a basket case and can’t deliver. He just flat-out set the tone and delivered the whole night. I would have been a little shocked if he didn’t.”

Afterward, Connaughton sported a white T-shirt with a red “A” on it — for Arlington, his hometown that sits 10 minutes away from the Boston College campus. The shirt looked like it had seen better days, but not Connaughton, who was really good really early.

Connaughton connected on his first five shots, cooled off, then heated back up for two critical baskets and two clutch free throws when the Irish needed to keep the Eagles at a distance. He finished with a team-high 17 points — one of four Irish to score double figures — with five rebounds and four assists in all 40 minutes.

“It was cool; it was cool,” Connaughton said of the fan support. “You’ve got to give the credit to my teammates. The big guys were screening, and that allowed me to get open. Eric (Atkins) was distributing the ball. We had a great team chemistry on offense. We had a good chemistry on defense.

“At the end of the day, it was all them.”

The Irish again were without freshman guard Demetrius Jackson, who was separated from the team the last two games to focus on academics. Brey said afterward that Jackson has done all he’s needed to do academically and will return to practice Monday. He will not be available for comment in the foreseeable future but will travel to Florida for Wednesday’s game against Miami (Fla.).

“He’s coming back (Monday),” said Brey, who worked Jackson out every night at 10 back on campus during the separation. “He is caught up with his work. I’m really proud of the week that he’s had. He’s back to his good habits and will rejoin us.”

A second-consecutive conference win for the first time this season also marked Notre Dame’s first win away from South Bend in its new Atlantic Coast Conference home after five previously unsuccessful attempts. It’s the first time the Irish have won away from Purcell Pavilion since the Dec. 14 victory over Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“It’s awesome,” Connaughton said of winning on the road. “It’s especially awesome right here.”

Sunday’s win boosted the Irish to 14-12, 5-8 in the ACC, and allowed them to sidestep having to open a season with six-straight league road losses for the first time in school history.

Like Connaughton, Zach Auguste is a fellow Massachusetts native (Marlborough). He didn’t have nearly the fans as Connaughton did at the game — maybe around 150 — but he also made sure they had reason to head for home happy.

Coming off his first career double-double in Tuesday’s double-overtime victory against Clemson, Auguste returned with 10 points and three rebounds.

“We had a new attitude and played with a lot of resiliency,” Auguste said. “We wanted to come out and take care of business.”

But it was a third New Englander, with no ties to the state other than it’s where his older sister now lives, who played wicked good when required. Maine native Tom Knight scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor and tied his career high with nine rebounds in 19 efficient minutes off the bench.

“It was nice to play in front of my friends and family,” Knight said. “We just played tough the whole game. We attacked the glass, didn’t settle for jumpers and took it to the rim.”

After the game, Atkins (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) joked with Knight that he had forgotten how it feels to win a league road contest. It had been nearly a year — Feb. 18, 2013 — since the Irish last accomplished that when they won at then-No. 20 Pittsburgh.

“It’s nice,” Knight said.

This one doesn’t have nearly the shock value, but Notre Dame will take it. And the Irish have zero plans on stopping with just Sunday.

This one was as methodical as so many other Irish road wins in previous seasons back in the Big East — run good, efficient offense, take care of the ball, don’t settle for quick shots, get something from everyone and hit free throws.

The Irish led by as many as six and trailed by as many as five in a first half that featured six ties and six lead changes. But just when the second half looked like it might shape up as so many previous road near-misses for Notre Dame, the visitors did something they didn’t do in previous trips.

They buckled down and were even better on offense. They stayed poised, which kept the turnover total to seven and jumped their advantage to as many as 10. They never let the home team get a taste of the lead the final 25:45. They finished 13-of-17 (76.5 percent) from the foul line.

And when plays really needed to be made — a Connaughton flip shot, an Auguste lay-in, a Knight rebound follow — they made them.

“Our offensive efficiency was really good,” Brey said. “We’ve had two games in a row where we understand how to play on the offensive end.”

Former Irish guard Alex Dragicevich played one scoreless minute in the first half for Boston College (6-19, 2-10), which lost for the fifth-straight time and the eight time in the last nine games.

“I just focus on getting better,” said Eagles coach Steve Donahue.

Notre Dame just might be.

NOTRE DAME (14-12): Pat Connaughton 7-14 3-3 17, Zach Auguste 4-6 2-3 10, Garrick Sherman 3-7 2-4 8, Eric Atkins 6-12 0-0 16, Steve Vasturia 1-4 4-5 7, V.J. Beachem 1-3 2-2 5, Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Tom Knight 5-7 0-0 10. Totals 27-53 13-17 73.

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-19): Garland Owens 3-8 0-0 8, Will Magarity 1-3 0-0 2, Ryan Anderson 5-13 1-2 11, Olivier Hanlan 6-14 5-6 18, Joe Rahon 3-7 5-6 13, Eddie Odio 2-3 2-2 6, Lonnie Jackson 1-3 0-0 3, Alex Dragicevich 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick Heckmann 2-2 3-5 8. Totals 23-53 16-21 69.

Halftime — Notre Dame 38-35. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 6-13 (Atkins 4-5, Beachem 1-1, Vasturia 1-3, Connaughton 0-4), Boston College 7-14 (Owens 2-3, Rahon 2-4, Heckmann 1-1, Jackson 1-3, Hanlan 1-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Notre Dame 32 (Knight 9), Boston College 30 (Anderson 11). Assists — Notre Dame 14 (Atkins, Connaughton 4), Boston College 15 (Rahon 4). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 16, Boston College 17. A — 7,138.

Tom Noie: 574-235-6153

Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton cuts between Boston College's Garland Owens, left, and Ryan Anderson during the first half of Sunday's game in Chestnut Hill, Mass. (AP Photo/MICHAEL DWYER)