Long ACC trip, longer night for Notre Dame men

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – They escape snow-bound cities to feel the sun on their faces, to feel the sand and the surf between their toes, to feel refreshed during another long winter up north.

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team headed south Wednesday to win a key Atlantic Coast Conference game against a ranked team. At least the Irish saw the sun for a brief bit during their stay.

Unable to match the toughness around the rim and off the dribble and everywhere in the open floor of No. 17 Miami (Fla.), which often did as it pleased on the offensive end, Notre Dame tumbled into another 20-point hole for a second-straight conference road game, which ended in familiar fashion.

In another Irish loss.

Notre Dame slipped to 15-7, 6-4 in the ACC following a 79-70 setback at BankUnited Center. Don’t be fooled by the final score, though. It was seldom that close. Not after the Irish dozed through long stretches on both ends while opening the second half of their league schedule the same way they started the first – with a road loss in a game they were never really in.

Again.

“It’s just us; we’ve got to defend better,” said junior wing V.J. Beachem. “We knew how they were going to attack and go downhill, but we weren’t defending at all.”

And don’t be fooled by some of the final stats, such as the 12 points and nine rebounds from senior captain Zach Auguste. He did much of that damage when the game was all but over, and again labored to make even the easiest of shots. He finished 6-of-13 from the floor.

Bonzie Colson led the Irish with 17 points. He hit his first four shots, then made just three of his final nine.

“We just need to get better,” Colson said. “Just gotta be better.”

On a night when the Irish needed to be better in every area, they weren’t in many at all. They didn’t shoot it well (46.3 percent from the floor, 25 percent from 3), were too loose with the ball (10 turnovers) and allowed Miami to shoot 56.4 percent from the field, including a sizzling 63 percent in the first half.

Man defense didn’t work. Zone didn’t do much either. Adding a sixth defender wasn’t an option, though even that might not have helped.

“They are really good,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They’re really hard to guard. Their maturity and age kind of showed tonight. We just couldn’t get enough on the defensive end to make it interesting.”

Wednesday was the first time that the Irish have dropped consecutive conference road games since late in the 2013-14 season. They haven’t put up much of a fight in either, and were only marginally better than last week’s shellacking in Syracuse.

Looking to get a little older as they embarked on a crusher second-half league stretch, Brey started his four captains – and his two seniors – Sunday against Wake Forest. All worked out well for all involved, including seldom-used senior A.J. Burgett, who responded with a career-high 14 points with five rebounds. The Irish played old.

Burgett again got the start Wednesday, but the end results for the Irish were far from old. In, fact it had just the opposite effect after Burgett and fellow senior Auguste each fell into foul trouble early in the first half and spent long stretches on the bench.

Without either of the two seniors, Brey had to mix and match some lineup combinations. Any he tried came up short in the experience – and defense – department.

“I thought we were young tonight,” Brey said. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t get in a stance a little better and keep that thing out of the lane.”

Burgett finished with five points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.

The Hurricanes received a career effort from freshman guard Anthony Lawrence, Jr. Averaging 3.8 points coming in, Lawrence erupted for a career — and game-high 18 points. He took six shots from the field; he made five and was one of the reasons why the Hurricanes ran off 30 bench points.

“When you go to your bench, oftentimes you have a drop-off,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said. “We don’t.”

While Brey was all business in his brief post-game, Larranaga kept his light-hearted and loose bouncing back from a league loss to North Carolina State. After being asked a question about guard Ja’Quan Newton and his dozen points off the bench, Larranaga asked guard Angel Rodriguez, seated nearby, what he thought of the query.

Rodriguez fessed up that he wasn’t paying attention. He was too busy texting.

“Oh, the disrespect,” Larranaga joked.

This one got away from the visitors because they just couldn’t get many stops. Ever. For the second-straight league road game, Notre Dame was forced to play catch-up most of the contest.

The Irish were saddled with a 12-point halftime deficit after allowing the Hurricanes to shoot 63 percent from the field. Notre Dame shot 50 percent, but it was way too easy too often for the other guys.

It remained a one step forward, two steps back situation for much of the first half. The Irish clawed back from an early deficit to tie it at 24 on a Steve Vasturia 3 with 6:22 remaining, but then tumbled back into a hole (five points) barely over a minute later.

“We were right there but we could never get over the hump,” Vasturia said. “We didn’t come out with the fire that we needed to match them (in the second half).”

Down a dozen at the break, the Irish eventually trailed by 20 with eight minutes left.

“We didn’t have it the way they brought it,” Vasturia said.

How frustrated was Brey with the first 20 minutes? He had his suit coat off before even leaving the bench area. The Irish locker room likely was not a very happy place at intermission. The charter flight home likely pretty quiet.

Offensively, the Irish showed they could get where they wanted in going for 20 points in the paint in the first half. Trouble was, when Davon Reed was throwing in baseline runners from just inside the 3-point line, that’s a sure sign the other guys are feeling really good about their stuff.

Reed wasn’t alone. Plenty of Hurricanes threw in a host of shots with relative ease.

“They,” Beachem said, “were able to go downhill a lot tonight.”

It gets no easier for Notre Dame, which was expected to return home in the wee hours of Thursday before a quick turnaround against league leader and No. 2 North Carolina, which comes calling Saturday.

NOTRE DAME (70): V.J. Beachem 6-13 0-0 14, Demetrius Jackson 3-11 0-0 6, A.J. Burgett 2-3 0-0 5, Zach Auguste 6-13 0-2 12, Steve Vasturia 4-8 0-0 9, Rex Pflueger 0-0 1-2 1, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 2-3 0-0 4, Matt Farrell 0-1 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 1-1 0-0 2, Bonzie Colson 7-13 3-4 17. Totals 31-67 4-8 70.

MIAMI (79): Davon Reed 4-8 0-0 8, Sheldon McClellan 5-6 0-0 12, Angel Rodriguez 5-10 2-3 12, Kamari Murphy 3-4 5-5 11, Tonye Jekiri 3-6 0-0 6, Ja'Quan Newton 6-10 0-1 12, Anthony Lawrence Jr. 5-6 4-5 18, James Palmer 0-3 0-0 0, Ivan Cruz Uceda 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 31-55 11-14 79.

Halftime--Miami 45-33. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 4-16 (Beachem 2-7, Vasturia 1-1, Burgett 1-2, Ryan 0-1, Farrell 0-1, Jackson 0-4), Miami 6-16 (Lawrence Jr. 4-4, McClellan 2-2, Reed 0-1, Newton 0-1, Palmer 0-2, Cruz Uceda 0-2, Rodriguez 0-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 35 (Auguste 9), Miami 30 (Jekiri 12). Assists--Notre Dame 14 (Jackson 7), Miami 12 (Rodriguez 5). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, Miami 13. Technicals--Colson, Jekiri. A--6,819.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem falls after a foul by Miami guard Davon Reed in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, Coral Gables, Fla.AP Photo/ALAN DIAZ