Tobacco Road warriors: Notre Dame men handle Wake Forest

NDI Staff Report
ND Insider

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The recent ride down Tobacco Road continues to be really smooth for the No. 23 Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

And successful.

Senior power forward Zach Auguste scored 18 points with 12 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season and 19th of his career and guard Demetrius Jackson scored all 15 of his points in the second half to lead the Irish to a 69-58 victory Wednesday over Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

"It's going to be a battle in the paint; it's going to be a battle on the glass and I took that challenge personally," Auguste said. "I wanted to go out there and rebound as much as I could and help the team win."

Winners for the first time in school history in Winston-Salem, Notre Dame (19-8; 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won seven of its last eight games in the state of North Carolina. The Irish also are 10-1 overall against ACC teams from North Carolina since the start of the 2014-15 season.

The Irish bounced back from a loss and avoided losing consecutive games for the 13th time since the start of the 2014-15 season. The win pulls Notre Dame into a tie with Virginia for fourth place in the league.

Steve Vasturia added 16 points for the Irish, who had lost three of their previous four league road games.

"I'm really proud of our group," coach Mike Brey said. "We had to defend to win tonight."

John Collins led the Demon Deacons (11-17; 2-14) with 16 points.

It was Notre Dame’s fourth road win in league play. The visitors closed it out by making their final 10 free throws over the last 2:09. Notre Dame finished 17-of-20, all in the second half, from the foul line.

"It was a tough win on the road," Auguste said. "We executed down the stretch when it counted. Demetrius had great leadership. We had a great second half."

Notre Dame beat Wake Forest by 23 points last month in South Bend. The Demon Deacons were coming off their second league win earlier in the week at home against Boston College. It was a game the Deacons led at one point, 37-4.

Up three times by as many as 10 points, Notre Dame just couldn’t get any distance from Wake Forest. It was a four-point Irish lead (59-55) with just under four minutes remaining.

Scoreless after missing all four of his shots from the floor in the first half, Jackson got going early in the second. His reverse layup pushed the Irish lead to four and gave him his first points. Jackson, the team’s leading scorer at just under 17 points a game coming in, then pushed the pace and finished a break with another layup to bump the Irish up six. He seemed to operate at a different gear, a confident, quicker one, early in the second half, and his teammates followed the lead.

Once one Irish guard got going, the other quickly followed. Vasturia returned off the first media timeout of the second half to bust loose for eight quick points, including a pair of deep 3s. Then when Jackson jumped back into the scoring mix with a fade mid-range jumper, Notre Dame was back up 10 again.

Wake Forest eventually ran off five unanswered and it was back to executing game situations in a close conference road game. Again.

As much of a struggle as it was early on – and it was as the Irish opened by hitting only five of their first 15 shots – the visitors rediscovered some of their really good offensive flow a little over halfway through the first half.

Notre Dame downshifted away from two bigs on the floor at the same time and went with a perimeter-heavy lineup that included two freshmen – Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan. That allowed the Irish to get back to moving and cutting and making the extra pass. It saw them open an eight-point lead fueled by a pair of Ryan 3s.

The lead hit double figures for the first time (22-12) with a Vasturia backdoor cut and lay-in off a Jackson feed. As well as Notre Dame looked, it staggered the final 2:42 without a field goal – or point – and took a three-point lead at intermission.

Notre Dame twice led by 10 in a first half that saw the Irish post a lot of ugly numbers. They shot 38.2 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from 3, had only four assists and turned it over six times.

Still, the visitors had to feel good in this respect – the average first-half deficit for the Irish over their last 10 games was eight points. Notre Dame’s largest deficit in the first half Wednesday was two.

There had been some question and concern that Auguste would be ready to go Wednesday. The senior captain missed Monday’s practice while nursing a hyperextended right knee suffered in the closing seconds of Saturday’s last-second loss at Georgia Tech.

August played with a brace on his right knee as a precaution. He then busted out for six points and seven rebounds in the first half.

The Irish entered Wednesday’s contest having won six of their previous seven games in the state of North Carolina. That included Notre Dame’s first-ever wins at North Carolina (last season) and Duke (this season).

Needing a good start on the road after having to scramble back from early deficits much of the last month, Notre Dame promptly turned it over three times in barely four minutes to start, couldn’t get a clean look, couldn’t get a clean rebound and let Wake get confident early.

The Irish opened with a Bonzie Colson dunk seconds after the opening tip, but that was one of the few good chances early on. As cold as the Irish were, the Deacons were downright icy. Wake Forest made only three of its first 18 shots. That allowed Notre Dame to run off six quick ones, including four from V.J. Beachem, to open a four-point lead before the second media timeout.

Notre Dame wraps its three-road-games-in-eight-days swing Saturday against Florida State before returning home to finish out the regular season with games against No. 12 Miami (Fla.) (Wednesday) and North Carolina State (Saturday).

The Irish will travel from Winston-Salem to Tallahassee, Fla., on Thursday afternoon.

NOTRE DAME (19-8): Beachem 3-8 2-3 8, Auguste 5-9 8-8 18, Colson 3-7 0-1 6, Jackson 5-13 5-6 15, Vasturia 6-11 2-2 16, Pflueger 0-3 0-0 0, Ryan 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 24-55 17-20 69.

WAKE FOREST (11-17): Collins 6-12 4-7 16, Mitoglou 2-10 2-2 7, Miller-McIntyre 1-7 0-0 2, Wilbekin 2-11 0-0 6, Crawford 3-11 2-2 8, Moore 6-10 1-2 13, McClinton 1-3 0-0 2, Watson 1-6 1-4 4. Totals 22-70 10-17 58.

Halftime--Notre Dame 28-25. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 4-18 (Vasturia 2-4, Ryan 2-4, Pflueger 0-2, Jackson 0-4, Beachem 0-4), Wake Forest 4-24 (Wilbekin 2-9, Watson 1-3, Mitoglou 1-5, Miller-McIntyre 0-1, Crawford 0-6). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 43 (Auguste 12), Wake Forest 43 (Miller-McIntyre, Moore 8). Assists--Notre Dame 9 (Jackson 5), Wake Forest 14 (Crawford 5). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, Wake Forest 16. A--8,498.

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Notre Dame junior guard Steve Vasturia dives for a loose ball during Wednesday's game at Wake Forest.AP Photo/CHUCK BURTON