Steve Vasturia helps No. 8 Notre Dame shoot down No. 4 Duke

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – One hundred seconds remained in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest that would again be decided by game situations when one Notre Dame guard had a message for another.

Sophomore Steve Vasturia had missed all four of his shots the previous 38 minutes, but as No. 8 Notre Dame gathered Wednesday during a timeout against No. 4 Duke, teammate Jerian Grant looked his way.

Be ready, he told him.

He was.

With less than 30 seconds remaining and the Irish up one, Vasturia watched and waited for Grant to drain the clock as he backed his defender down the lane, then zip him a pass that left just enough time on the shot clock to gather and fire. As Vasturia’s shot fell, and the roof of Purcell Pavilion threatened to blow right off, the home team had a four-point lead. Twenty-two seconds later, the final horn sounded on yet another Irish comeback, this time from 10 down with under 11 minutes remaining to win 77-73.

“My thing was, try and get a shot,” Grant said. “I was trying to break my man down. I turned my back to get a shot on him.”

As Grant rose, he saw every Duke defender concentrating on him. That was a good clue that somebody was open somewhere. So he spied Vasturia. Alone. Waiting. Ready.

“I saw his hands ready, he was staring at me,” Grant said. “I could tell he wanted the ball. I swung it to him and he knocked it down.”

Despite the struggles with his shot, Vasturia insisted he had little doubt that if he could get another chance, shot No. 5 was going up and down. Then it did.

“I was just kind of spotting up just like with J getting in the lane,” Vasturia said. “Timeout before that, he told me, ‘You’re going to step up and hit a big one.’

“I just tried to step in in rhythm and knock it down. I was ready for it.”

Winners for the 16th time in its last 17 games, Notre Dame improved to 20-2, 8-1 in the ACC. Wednesday’s game featured 12 ties and nine lead changes. Duke led by as many as 10; Notre Dame by as many as seven.

“That one,” Irish coach Mike Brey said, “absolutely lived up to the hype.”

The rematch arrives in nine days at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke is 17-3, 4-3.

“A heck of a basketball game,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We should not have left Vasturia.”

Three nights after being handed an 18-point deficit before winning in overtime at North Carolina State, Notre Dame found itself in all-too familiar territory. A flip shot from freshman sensation Jahlil Okafor dropped the Irish in a 65-55 hole with 10:58 remaining. It marked the sixth time in the last eight league games that Notre Dame trailed by at least 10 points.

But something familiar happened. Once the Irish felt the very real threat of being blown out on their homecourt, they settled in and locked down. They started to play loose and care-free, even a whole lot cocky.

They mustered some defensive stops. They got some high-percentage chances to drop at the rim. They stirred up the Blue Devil defense, which left open other guys beside Grant to make plays.

The Irish have won five of those six league games where they've trailed by double digits.

“Man, it’s just another test to our resiliency,” said junior power forward Zach Auguste. “We just stick together. We just focused in. We held each other accountable and took care of business.”

If all else failed – even though little did – Notre Dame could lean on Grant to get it done.

Just before finding Vasturia in the corner, Grant also played beat-the-shot clock with a floater in the lane to put the Irish up three. Just as he did the other night in Raleigh, Grant got a certain look in his eye and a swagger in his step. When he wasn’t finishing (a game-high 23 points) he was handing out a career-high 12 assists.

Grant got it done by getting good look after good look off ball screens that the Blue Devils simply couldn’t defend.

“When I came off the ball screen, I could see everything,” said Grant, who added six rebounds, three steals and two blocks in all 40 minutes. “I could shoot it, or I could pass.”

Notre Dame had led for all of 14 seconds early in the second half before being smacked by a 9-0 Duke run that put the visitors up nine. And when Tyus Jones hit a corner 3 off a missed free throw rebound, the Irish were down 63-53.

But Notre Dame would be all right once one of its main guys returned from a frightening fall.

Senior captain Pat Connaughton crashed to the floor with 12:49 remaining. As the arena went silent, Connaughton lay motionless under the west basket after going for the shot fake and then flipping over Marshall Plumlee. Connaughton never lost consciousness, but he did need a few minutes in the tunnel nearest the Irish bench to clear the cobwebs.

“I was very confused why a 7-footer up-faked on a 6-5 kid," Connaughton said. “I know I can block some shots. Right when he upfaked and took a dribble back is when I knew there was going to be a little bit of trouble.”

Once Connaughton returned – all of 68 seconds later – the Irish took off on a 14-2 run. As he checked in, he also delivered a message to his teammates – the time to go is now.

Notre Dame weathered the offensive assault of Oakafor, who seemingly could do as he pleased around the rim. He made 10 of his 18 shots and grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds, but it came at a price. If Auguste (14 points, six rebounds) wasn’t banging and leaning on him, freshman Bonzie Colson (eight points, three rebounds) was cutting his big-game college experience on someone expected to go first in the June NBA draft.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re down by 10, down by 20, we just keep grinding it out no matter what,” Colson said. “That’s something special about this team.”

There’s plenty more.

DUKE (17-3):Justise Winslow 4-7 2-2 13, Amile Jefferson 2-4 0-3 4, Jahlil Okafor 10-18 2-7 22, Quinn Cook 5-11 2-2 15, Tyus Jones 5-11 3-3 14, Matt Jones 1-4 0-0 2, Rasheed Sulaimon 1-6 1-2 3, Marshall Plumlee 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 28-61 10-20 73.NOTRE DAME (20-2):Zach Auguste 6-11 2-3 14, Demetrius Jackson 4-10 0-0 10, Jerian Grant 9-15 3-4 23, Pat Connaughton 5-8 0-0 13, Steve Vasturia 1-5 4-4 7, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, V.J. Beachem 1-2 0-2 2, Bonzie Colson 3-5 2-3 8. Totals 29-56 11-16 77.Halftime--Duke 39-36. 3-Point Goals--Duke 7-16 (Winslow 3-4, Cook 3-6, T. Jones 1-3, M. Jones 0-1, Sulaimon 0-2), Notre Dame 8-18 (Connaughton 3-6, Grant 2-4, Jackson 2-4, Vasturia 1-3, Beachem 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Duke 38 (Okafor 17), Notre Dame 33 (Connaughton 12). Assists--Duke 12 (M. Jones 4), Notre Dame 17 (Grant 12). Total Fouls--Duke 16, Notre Dame 18. A--9,149.

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Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia (left) reacts during No. 8 ND's 77-73 win over No. 4 Duke Wednesday at Purcell Pavilion (AP Photo/JOE RAYMOND)