Georgia Tech stings Notre Dame in final seconds

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

ATLANTA — They were 10 seconds away from pulling off a third-consecutive comeback Saturday special in Atlantic Coast Conference play — this time on the road.

Turns out it was one second too long.

Unable to hold a six-point lead with four minutes and change remaining, No. 19 Notre Dame saw its three-game ACC win streak snapped by Marcus Georges-Hunt. The senior guard drove to the bucket against man defense and dropped in the game-winner with one second remaining to hand the Irish a 63-62 loss at McCamish Pavilion.

“Almost,” said Irish guard Steve Vasturia, who guarded Georges-Hunt on the final possession. “It was a great shot by Hunt at the end. I thought we had pretty good defense on him, but we couldn’t get that last (stop) when we needed it.”

Notre Dame falls to 18-8, 9-5 and tied with No. 20 Duke for fifth place in the ACC. If the season ended today, the Irish would hold the tiebreaker and be the fourth and final team to receive a double-bye in the league tournament.

Georges-Hunt may have dropped in the game-winner for the Yellow Jackets (15-12, 5-9), but it was an inability to get much going on offense that really hurt the Irish. Notre Dame scored only one basket the final four-plus minutes.

“We were getting good looks, good offense,” Vasturia said. “Just a couple shots here and there didn’t go down.”

A scramble for the loose ball following a Demetrius Jackson miss gave possession to Georgia Tech with 17.6 seconds left. Jackson had the ball in the scramble but could not call timeout. The Irish had burned them all.

“We’ve got to keep being confident and doing what we can to finish games,” said Jackson. “Just keep taking good looks.”

Notre Dame exhausted its timeouts, coach Mike Brey said, because his guys had used up so much energy earlier in the game — first, in trying to guard the Yellow Jackets before erasing a nine-point deficit. He needed to burn timeout after timeout late to try and keep his guys fresh.

Brey would have preferred a late stop or a score to having an additional timeout.

“I don’t know if that would have changed things,” he said. “We were exhausted and needed the timeouts to get a blow.”

A pair of Charles Mitchell buckets brought Georgia Tech within two with 1:46 remaining, but Notre Dame answered with a Zach Auguste score. Georgia Tech then had a better answer with an Adam Smith wing 3. That made it 62-61 Irish with 49.1 seconds left.

“They made clutch plays,” Brey said of the Yellow Jackets, “We just couldn’t get that last stop.”

Down by four and struggling to get anything going on either end, Notre Dame found its groove with just over 11 minutes remaining. A pair of V.J. Beachem corner 3s right in front of the Irish bench spearheaded an 8-0 run and flipped what had been a four-point deficit into a four-point Irish lead with 10:26 remaining.

Battling back again from early foul trouble, Auguste dropped in a reverse layup in the middle of Beachem’s buckets to give Notre Dame its first lead, at 47-46, since it was 3-2.

A Bonzie Colson rebound follow of his own miss nudged Notre Dame up five with just over eight minutes left. At that point, the Yellow Jackets had made only five of their 20 shots from the floor in the second half.

Georgia Tech jumped up by nine in the opening minute of the second half and looked ready to go up double digits before a quick 6-0 spurt brought the Irish within three following a Colson jumper with 16:26 remaining.

Notre Dame climbed back into it with defense. After allowing Georgia Tech to shoot 51.7 percent (15-of-29) in the first half, a little Irish resistance saw the Jackets make only four of their first 16 shots to start the second.

That allowed Notre Dame to get within one possession four times before the under-12 minute timeout. Really, it got the Irish right where they wanted to be.

The Irish entered Saturday’s play after a week away from game competition having won eight of their last 10. All four of their league losses (Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia) came to teams currently above .500.

The Irish had won the last four meetings with the Yellow Jackets, who came into Saturday’s contest a confident group after an 86-80 victory Wednesday at Florida State. Georgia Tech had not won consecutive league games all year.

Getting off to a good start was a must for Notre Dame, which trailed relatively big in the opening 20 minutes in three of its previous four games. The Irish were down seven the previous Saturday to Louisville, down 15 to North Carolina two Saturdays ago and opened the month by falling behind at the break by a dozen at Miami (Fla.).

Notre Dame never trailed in its previous road game at Clemson, a game that gave Brey his first real indication that this could be a special group.

So what happens Saturday? Notre Dame missed six of its first seven shots, committed three fouls, turned it over twice, allowed the Jackets eight rebounds and was down by five by the time the first media timeout hit at 14:26.

“We kind of got beat up in the first half,” Vasturia said.

“We dug ourselves out of a hole,” Brey said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”

Notre Dame trailed at halftime (37-30) for the fourth time in the last five games, mainly because of its inability to keep Georgia Tech out of the lane. The Yellow Jackets scored 24 of their 37 first-half points in the paint.

The Irish led in the first half only once, 3-2, following a Vasturia 3-pointer. They also finished the first 20 minutes with twice as many turnovers (six) as assists (three).

Saturday had not been a good day to be a ranked ACC team on the road. Duke, ranked No. 20, allowed a double-digit lead to get away before losing at No. 18 Louisville. Miami, which is No. 11, was throttled at No. 5 North Carolina. Heading into the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech matchup, the last of the conference’s six games Saturday, the road team had won only one. Pittsburgh won in the Carrier Dome.

Notre Dame returned home early Sunday morning before heading back out on the road in league play for Wednesday’s game against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons suspended leading scorer and rebounder Devin Thomas for two games on Friday, which means he will not play against Notre Dame.

NOTRE DAME (62): V.J. Beachem 5-10 0-0 13, Zach Auguste 6-9 1-4 13, Bonzie Colson 3-6 4-5 10, Demetrius Jackson 5-13 1-2 12, Steve Vasturia 3-10 0-0 7,Rex Pflueger 1-3 0-0 2, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 1-3 2-2 5. Totals 24-54 8-13 62.

GEORGIA TECH (63): Charles Mitchell 7-12 0-1 14, Quinton Stephens 1-5 0-0 3, Nick Jacobs 4-10 1-1 9, Adam Smith 2-9 3-3 9, Marcus Georges-Hunt 7-17 4-7 19, Tadric Jackson 1-3 1-3 3, Travis Jorgenson 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Heath 0-1 0-0 0, James White 0-0 0-0 0, Ben Lammers 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 25-60 9-15 63.

Halftime: Georgia Tech 37-30. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 6-18 (Beachem 3-5, Vasturia 1-3, Ryan 1-3, Jackson 1-6, Pflueger 0-1), Georgia Tech 4-15 (Smith 2-7, Stephens 1-4, Georges-Hunt 1-4). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Notre Dame 32 (Auguste 9), Georgia Tech 37 (Jacobs 12). Assists: Notre Dame 10 (Vasturia 4), Georgia Tech 12 (Georges-Hunt 7). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 12, Georgia Tech 13. A--8,600.

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