Defense allows Irish men to find their basketball juice

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Defense doesn’t go away. It never endures a slump.

Energy waned on a balmy Sunday afternoon. The notion of impending finals? More empty seats than there should be? An opponent that lacked star power?

Whatever the case, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team struggled for a while to find the “juice” in its 81-61 win over Loyola.

Can’t fake that way of playing ball. Find the flow, then let it roll.

The flow, though, can be hard to locate at the right time.

It doesn’t start with a dunk. No long 3-pointer will get it done.

Make a stop, light the fire. A couple more, it’s called a run.

The Irish had a couple lock-down moments that kept a far inferior bunch of Ramblers from turning an anticipated blowout into a game – or worse yet, an upset.

Score tied at 25 with 5:38 to go in the first half. Trouble’s brewing, but energy isn’t. The Irish defense caused some frustration, taking Loyola deep into the shot clock before Milton Doyle launched a 3 that clanked. Steve Vasturia rebounded, the ball rotation found V.J. Beachem open to drain a 3-pointer. A steal by Demetrius Jackson allowed Notre Dame to pick up the tempo. The turnaround ended with a 3 by Vasturia. It was Matt Ryan’s turn to come up with a steal on Loyola’s next possession and it ended with a dunk by Bonzie Colson.

Irish led in a hurry, 33-25.

“Coach (Mike Brey) got on us to get us going,” said Beachem. “We knew we had to make a run, right then and there, to try and blow the game open.

“We try to work on getting (defensive) stops. It allows us to get out in transition where we think we’re at our best.

“I kinda got on (the Irish players’) backsides in the timeout,” Brey said of the situation. “I haven’t really had to do that with them. We took some really bad (quick) shots that led to transition buckets (for Loyola).”

Notre Dame’s lead got to 10 before the Ramblers hung around with two quick baskets before half, 40-34 at the break.

“It was like putting fingers in the dike (just before intermission),” Brey said. “We were bleeding. ‘Let’s get to halftime and figure it out.’”

Brey came to the conclusion it was time to turn to a zone defense for the critical part of the second half. Less than two minutes in, Loyola whittled the Irish lead to 40-38.

Again, energy was sapped. “Juice” wasn’t flowing.

The defense, though, refused to rest – 3-pointer by Vasturia: Good; steal and layup by Jackson: Good; defensive rebound, then offensive rebound and put-back by Colson: Good; steal by Zach Auguste and layup by Beachem: Good.

A once tenuous Irish lead had suddenly reached double digits.

Changing from man-to-man to zone defense to start the second half was the X’s and O’s explanation of the ignition, but finding a catalyst to jump-start the Irish was the intangible view.

“(The zone) kept (Loyola) out of our lane and didn’t allow them to stretch the floor like they had in the first half,” Beachem said. “We were able to clog up the lane and make them pass it outside. That really helped us out.”

“If we can get some good stops, it leads to some great transition (plays),” Auguste said. “We get a rebound and a run, we get it out to Demetrius, Demetrius brings the ball down and we get a good play. That’s how it gets started.

“We had to lock in defensively (in the second half) and keep them from getting some good shots. We weren’t doing that earlier. We had to stay calm and stay poised. It really tested our resiliency.”

It was a way to squeeze “juice” out of an energy-starved team.

Defense did the job.

Demetrius Jackson and Bonzie Colson helped Notre Dame win its third-straight game Sunday at home against Loyola (Ill.).SBT File Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ