Notre Dame men's basketball happy after Duke win, hungry for more

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Smiling, happy people greeted Notre Dame junior wing V.J. Beachem during his only class in an abbreviated schedule earlier this week.

Perhaps the good vibrations on campus were because it was the first time in the new spring semester that the class had met, and would do so for only 30 minutes as the university observed a shortened schedule Monday as part of its Martin Luther King Day celebration.

Or perhaps people were so friendly toward Beachem because the Irish men’s basketball team wasn’t even 48 hours removed from its biggest win this winter — Saturday’s 95-91 victory over then-No. 9 Duke.

Notre Dame did something Saturday that no Notre Dame men’s hoops team had ever done — win at historic Cameron Indoor Stadium. But by Monday afternoon, the Irish had heard just about enough of it.

“A lot of guys are already to that point,” Beachem admitted. “We learned some great things about our team and we’re proud of what we did, but we have to flush what we did and let it go and get another win in this league.”

Notre Dame (12-5; 3-2 ACC) has a chance to run its Atlantic Coast Conference win streak to a season-high three Wednesday when it hosts surging Virginia Tech (12-6; 4-1). Irish coach Mike Brey planted a motivational seed when the team charter home from North Carolina landed early Saturday evening. Enjoy the win over Duke, but also keep in mind that there’s a team coming into Purcell Pavilion in a few days that’s ahead of Notre Dame in the league standings.

Coming off Saturday’s road win against Georgia Tech, the Hokies are hot, and look to remain on their current run at the expense of the Irish.

“That really gets you focused,” Brey said. “Can we be greedy and continue with a win streak in this league? Anytime you can win a couple in a row in a league like ours, it’s going to be really powerful.

“I’m really confident that our leadership and our maturity will have us focused.”

This is a Notre Dame team that took a big step toward understanding its identity last week. In the win at Cameron, which piggy-backed a grind-it-out league win over Georgia Tech, Notre Dame finally did the tough stuff to enjoy sustained league success for the first time this season.

They’ve gotten stops when they’ve needed stops. They’ve gotten the key rebounds and loose balls when momentum might swing. They’ve overcome a critical turnover or missed shot and kept battling. And, as has been the case most of the season, they’ve remained scary efficient on the offensive end.

Still, good offense — really good offense — is only going to take this team so far. Doing the tough stuff has helped Notre Dame win two straight.

“It came down to making plays at the end,” Beachem said. “That was something we’re going to need in this league.”

Also needed is leadership. Beating Duke, even though this is not a typical Duke team after the Blue Devils lost again at home Monday to unranked Syracuse, could allow a Notre Dame team to feel really good about itself. So much so that the focus and intensity level required last week slips the next time out.

But the core of this Irish group has been there. Beachem and classmates Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia, senior power forward Zach Auguste and sophomore Bonzie Colson were part of a nucleus that was able to build on big league road wins last season. The Irish were able to go weeks between league losses.

They’ve been here. The Irish are happy. The Irish also are hungry.

“When you do pick up a road win, you want to kind of rally off that and get a couple wins at home,” Vasturia said. “In this league, you’ve got to come back every night and you’re going to be challenged.

“If you can’t build off (beating Duke), it doesn’t mean as much.”

The Irish focus has been really good and much-needed in bouncing back from league wins. But this is the first time they’ve won two in a row in the league. How, Brey wondered, will they respond to people telling them how good they are for the previous 72 hours?

The Irish want to answer.

“For us to be successful in this league and do the things we want to do in this league, we have to get wins on top of wins on top of wins,” Beachem said. “That’s one of the best things about the game — whether you win or lose, you’re going to have another one soon.

“We just want to play another one right now.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem moves the ball while being defended by Alabama guard Retin Obasohan (32) during Sunday's game.AP Photo/WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.

WHO: Notre Dame (12-5 overall; 3-2 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (12-6; 4-1).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: RSN (Comcast Channel 101). The game also can be seen via the internet on 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: Seth Allen made one of two free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining to lead Virginia Tech to a 78-77 victory Saturday at Georgia Tech. South Florida transfer Zach LeDay led the Hokies with 21 points and seven rebounds. Allen, a Maryland transfer, added 13 points. … The win snapped an 18-game league road losing streak dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season. … LeDay leads the Hokies in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.9). … After winning a combined four league games the previous two seasons, Virginia Tech is 4-1 for the first time since 2008-09. … Picked in preseason to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC, the Hokies are tied for third after winning their last two and four of their last five. … Virginia Tech also has league wins over North Carolina State, Virginia and Wake Forest. Its loss was at Duke. … Coach Buzz Williams is in his second season in Blacksburg after seven at Marquette. … Virginia Tech returns three starters off last year’s team that finished 11-22, 2-16 and last place in the league. … Notre Dame ranks first in the ACC in field goal percentage (49.9); Virginia Tech is 10th (44.9). Notre Dame is second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (39.3); Virginia Tech is 10th (33.9). Notre Dame is third in the league in assists (14.8); Virginia Tech is 14th (12.3). … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 5-1.

WORTH QUOTING: “It’s definitely big to kind of go on little runs in league play, especially when you have opportunities to grab wins at home. That’s something we’re going to focus on, protecting our home court.”

-Notre Dame junior guard Steve Vasturia.