V.J. Beachem delivers to date for Notre Dame men's hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

One final bit of business beckoned before Notre Dame junior swingman V.J. Beachem could grab a shower, hop into some fresh clothes and point his SUV toward his Fort Wayne-area home for the holidays.

Summoned to the locker room lounge after going for 16 points, three blocks, two steals and two rebounds in an 87-78 victory Dec. 21 over Youngstown State, Beachem fielded three questions about the game and answered all with the same rapid-fire delivery that he squeezes off wing 3s.

In less than a minute, he had said all he needed to say as a host of media stared back at him with nothing but silence to immediately offer.

“Quick day for me,” Beachem joked.

Considered by many as Notre Dame’s X-factor heading into the season, the lanky 6-foot-8, 200-pound Beachem has responded with a near-A effort 11 games in. He’s solidified his starting spot. He’s delivered in big moments. He’s not been blinded by the bright lights.

It’s reached a point where there are few questions left to answer about his game.

Following the Youngstown State game, Notre Dame took a five-day basketball break. Players returned to their respective homes for the first time in months. But Beachem likely wouldn’t have minded had the season just kept on rolling into the next film session, the next practice, the next walk-through, the next game, the next opportunity.

Beachem’s been on a serious roll. He’d like nothing more than to keep playing, keep shooting, keep delivering. His confidence level as Notre Dame (8-3) wraps non-conference play Tuesday at home against Liberty (3-11) has soared beyond the Purcell Pavilion roof.

“Probably an all-time high in an Irish uniform right now,” Beachem said. “Probably since my senior year of high school, since being on the Indiana All-Star team.”

That confidence level was shaken in March during Notre Dame’s magical run to an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and through the NCAA tournament that saw the Irish flirt with their first trip to the Final Four since 1978. For reasons Beachem couldn’t explain, he wasn’t able to deliver the clutch shots, the key rebounds in traffic, the overall floor game that had once made him that Indiana All-Star coming out of New Haven High School on the east side of Fort Wayne.

He was there, but his game wasn’t.

Everyone knew he would step into a starting spot and have a chance to become a key contributor this season, but would he deliver? Could he deliver?

To date, he’s delivered.

Beachem turned a corner with a solid showing at the AdvoCare Invitational at Disney World during Thanksgiving week. Notre Dame staggered home with only one win against two losses by a combined three points, but Beachem wasn’t one of the reasons why. He had 14 points and nine rebounds against Monmouth, returned the next night with 16 points and five rebounds against Iowa and closed tournament play with 13 points and four rebounds against Alabama.

Beachem’s confidence took the proverbial next step in Indianapolis against Indiana at the fifth-annual Crossroads Classic. It was the first time that Beachem truly had played at Bankers Life since those Indiana All-Star days. A plantar fascia tear in his right foot forced him to miss five games last December, so his previous Crossroads competition had been limited to 60 rather forgettable seconds against the Hoosiers his freshman year. He didn’t make a shot, take a shot, grab a rebound, hand out an assist or commit so much as a foul that day.

Beachem then starred in his first moment on the big stage in the center of his home state.

Shooting it with confidence, finishing with furry at the rim and playing as if he truly did belong, Beachem erupted for 18 points (one shy of his career high) on 7-of-10 shooting. He added three steals and three rebounds in 32 minutes, but had only an 80-73 loss to show for it.

Disappointment dominated Beachem’s post-game media meeting. He insisted that his effort meant nothing without a win. Out in a back hallway after leaving the dais, Irish coach Mike Brey grabbed Beachem and stressed otherwise.

Beachem was big; his coach was buoyed.

“I was wondering about him in that atmosphere (and) he was fabulous,” Brey said. “He delivered the whole night. That’s a big step for him.”

Beachem took an even bigger one some 48 hours later against Youngstown State. The 34 combined points mark the most he’s hit for in consecutive contests during his collegiate career. That’s been a hole in his game – really good one night, too quiet the next. That he was just as good the next time out last time out was critical.

Beachem has hit for single-game career bests in points (19), rebounds (9), assists (4), blocks (2), field goals (7), 3-pointers (4) and minutes (38) through the first 11 games. He’s third on the team in scoring (12.9), rebounding (4.9), minutes (31.5) and steals (10). He’s second in blocks with seven and leads the Irish in 3-point shooting (47.2). He’s also shooting 47.3 percent from the field.

His game just looks good. It flows.

“I’m just taking my time with my game,” he said. “I’ve really embraced being a leader and having a voice with this team.

“I’m being myself on and off the court and it’s really paying dividends for me right now.”

There are areas where he can be better. Like attacking the basket. He’s logged 347 minutes, but has made only seven trips to the free throw line, where he’s made two. In contrast, reserve power forward Martinas Geben has attempted eight free throws in 28 minutes. Beachem also continues to chase one of his personal goals of getting a double-double for points and rebounds.

Regardless, Brey just wants Beachem to keep doing what he’s doing.

“You just feel like you’ve got a guy feeling really good.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (8-3) vs. Liberty (3-11).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Tuesday at 5 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ESPNU. The game also can be seen online at ESPN3 and WatchND.TV.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

WORTH NOTING: This game was originally scheduled to start at 3 p.m. … Liberty has lost 10 in a row and 11 of 12 following Sunday’s 85-57 loss at Virginia Commonwealth. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Kemrite scored 17 points to lead the Flames, who were outrebounded 37-23 and trailed by as many as 37. … Liberty has wins over Covenant, Summit and Central Penn. … The Notre Dame game will be Liberty’s ninth away from home, where they are 0-8. … Liberty returns two starters off last year’s team that finished 8-24, 2-16 and last place in the 11-team Big South. … The Flames were picked in preseason to finish last in the league. They finished 77 points behind 10th-place Campbell in the preseason poll. … The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) numbers for the Flames the last four years have been 347, 309, 290 and 283. … Located in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty has more Texas natives (two) than Virginians (one) on its roster. … Ritchie McKay is back for his second stint as Liberty head coach. McKay led the Flames for two years (2007-09) before spending the next six as associate head coach for Tony Bennett at Virginia. … Liberty finished 39-28 overall, 19-13 in the Big South during McKay’s two seasons. That included a 23-12 mark in 2008-09. … The Flames play the same “Pack Line” defense that has helped Virginia go 15-3 in each of the last two ACC seasons. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 2-0, with both games in South Bend. This is the first meeting between the teams since a 72-51 Irish win on Nov. 14, 2010. … Notre Dame opens Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at No. 5 Virginia.

WORTH QUOTING: “Another chance at an ACC (tournament) title.”

-Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem on his one Christmas wish.