Defense does it for Notre Dame in bounce-back basketball win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – They challenged one another all week to be collectively better as one in one area of the basketball floor.

The five guys that comprise the Notre Dame starting lineup can shoot it and score it and pass it really well, frighteningly well at times. But there had been too many other instances when the core couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do it collectively on the other end.

It was time, they decided way back on Monday back on campus, to buckle down, be better together and defend Thursday against Boston College.

That they did.

All five starters scored double figures, but it was their work on defense that really turned this game into a rout. The Irish guards jumped the passing lanes time and time and time again. The big men kept the other guys off the backboard and seemingly chased every rebound as if it belonged to them. They attacked in waves after forcing turnover after turnover.

Each time fans looked up, Notre Dame was turning its defense into offense and more buckets. When it was done, Notre Dame had registered its most lopsided Atlantic Coast Conference win in school history, an 82-54 pounding of Boston College at Conte Forum.

The previous school record for margin of victory in an ACC game was 25, set last season against Virginia Tech and also on the road.

“Just having each other’s backs, communication, went a long way for us,” said guard Demetrius Jackson, who led the Irish with 17 points and nine assists. “It was about having confidence and having some pride, just stepping up and guarding your guy.

“Be confident in your abilities to keep a guy in front of you. We had to go out and do it.”

Notre Dame, which led by as many as 28, moves to 10-4, 1-1 in the ACC. Boston College is 7-8, 0-2.

“Our defense was great,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “We made some adjustments the last couple of days to help our guys, but they executed it.”

Notre Dame dialed back its point of pickup on defense so it could better jam the lane and spend more time probing the passing lane for deflections, which led to nine steals and numerous run-outs. Doing that keeps the Irish from extending — or in the case last week, over-extending — defensively.

The Irish held the Eagles to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 29.8 percent from 3. They forced 15 turnovers and, maybe most impressively, flipped those miscues into 26 points. There were times when it seemed like they were playing with a sixth defender.

“It was an important night for this group,” Brey said. “To dig in, defend, be a little cruel, get our hands on stuff.”

Offensively, Notre Dame shot a season-high from the field (62.3) and from 3 (64.7) while also finishing with a staggering 42 points in the paint.

“Our offensive efficiency was off the charts,” Brey said. “But that’s something we’ve been good at.”

Having spent so much time — nearly all of three practices — working one defensive drill after another, the Irish would have been forgiven had they forgotten what to do with the ball when it was finally in their hands. The defensive effort Notre Dame delivered late last week at No. 4 Virginia was simply unacceptable by any standard. So one game after laboring to grab only 15 defensive rebounds, the Irish matched that total in the first half before finishing with 28.

They owned the defensive glass. Zach Auguste and V.J. Beachem snatched nine and seven defensive boards.

“We worked a lot on defense the whole three days,” Auguste said. “The white jerseys (starters), all we did was play defense. It was good.”

One of two Massachusetts natives on the Irish roster, Auguste had over 300 family members and friends at the game. He spent a solid stretch Saturday on the bench after a run of ineffectiveness, but a return home allowed him to return to his usual double-double self. He finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for the ninth double double of the season, the 14th of his career.

“This was big,” said Auguste, who had one point and two rebounds in Saturday's loss to No. 4 Virginia. “I just tried to stay focused on the glass. It was great basketball.”

Not to be outdone, fellow Bay State native Bonzie Colson went for 16 points with four rebounds and four blocks. He took nine shots. He made eight. No way, he admitted afterward, was he going to walk out to see family and friends afterward on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

“We needed this team win,” Colson said. “We just trusted each other on defense.”

The Irish have won six in a row and 10 of the last 12 meetings with Boston College. Playing in Conte Forum also agrees with this group from the Midwest. Two years ago, Notre Dame won its first-ever ACC road game in the arena. Last season, the Irish win here was road win No. 6, a school record.

And when Notre Dame needed a bust-out game Thursday, it really got one in The Heights.

Notre Dame led 37-24 at the break. The 24 first-half points were the fewest allowed by Notre Dame in an ACC road game during its two-plus seasons in the conference.

Boston College never really recovered.

“We’ve got to have some guys step up and take ownership of what’s going on here,” said a frustrated Jim Christian. “You’ve got to play harder than that. You’ve got to give more effort.

Thursday’s first half featured some different Irish lineup looks. Freshman Matt Ryan received extended first-half minutes (14) and responded with six points and three rebounds. Ryan was the first sub off the bench, coming in for the senior captain Auguste. He led all Irish in plus-minus rankings in the first half at (+18).

Ryan was the first one back for the Irish less than three minutes into the second half. This time, he came in for Colson. Ryan had nine points and three rebounds in 22 minutes. Fellow freshman Rex Pflueger was the second sub in for both halves. He played nine energetic minutes, highlighted by his lob pass for a Jackson alley-oop dunk.

Following a four-day window between conference contests, Notre Dame has a quick turnaround with its home league opener Saturday against No. 24 Pittsburgh. By the time the Irish charter landed earlier Friday, Brey wanted his players thinking of what’s coming, not what just happened.

“We’re through this road swing 1-1,” Brey said. “I will take it.”

NOTRE DAME (10-4):Beachem 3-6 1-2 10, Auguste 6-11 3-4 15, Colson 8-9 0-0 16, Jackson 6-10 1-2 17, Vasturia 6-9 0-0 13, Pflueger 0-1 0-0 0, Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Ryan 3-4 0-0 9, Farrell 0-0 0-0 0, Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Geben 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 33-53 5-8 82.BOSTON COLLEGE (7-8):Meznieks 0-3 0-0 0, Turner 1-6 0-0 3, Clifford 4-5 5-5 13, Robinson 3-11 5-5 11, Carter 4-14 2-2 13, Hicks 2-6 0-0 5, Diallo 0-0 0-0 0, Owens 0-0 0-0 0, Milon 3-6 0-0 9. Totals 17-51 12-12 54.Halftime--Notre Dame 37-24. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 11-17 (Jackson 4-5, Ryan 3-4, Beachem 3-6, Vasturia 1-2), Boston College 8-27 (Milon 3-6, Carter 3-8, Hicks 1-4, Turner 1-4, Meznieks 0-2, Robinson 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 35 (Auguste 11), Boston College 22 (Clifford, Meznieks 5). Assists--Notre Dame 19 (Jackson 9), Boston College 10 (Turner 3). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 13, Boston College 8. A--4,165.

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Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson works against the Youngstown State defense during Monday's win by the Irish at Purcell pavilion.SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES