Game analysis: Turnover turmoil troubling Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

WASHINGTON – Flush it fast and get focused.

Win or go home for good becomes the world in which the Notre Dame men's basketball team inhabits for at least the next week.

Beyond that, beyond St. Louis or Spokane or wherever the NCAA Tournament selection decides to send them, the Irish better be better at following the program's Golden Rule.

Getting to Championship Saturday night for a second-straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament never really was a serious option for Notre Dame because the defending tournament champions forgot the first commandment on the first page of the head coach's playbook.

Take care of the ball.

Treat it like gold. Don't fumble it away. Don't give it away. Don't throw it into the seats. Don't be lazy against a scary-athletic and long team looking to make a statement. Don't be careless and panicked when poise is required. Be good with it from the opening tip to the final whistle. Especially the guards. Above everyone else, the guards. Because as the coach often says, if you don't have good guards, you don't have (fill in the blank).

The Irish learn the lesson of valuing the ball on the first day of every college basketball season. They're reminded of it time and again throughout winter. Freshmen who come in thinking they're going to log major minutes often don't see the court until they learn how to value the basketball over shots and stats.

For the second-straight tournament game, Notre Dame (21-11) was too loose with the ball. It cost the No. 4 seed in a big way Friday against top seed North Carolina (27-6).

Unable to get in any offensive rhythm, Notre Dame struggled to score, struggled to get any semblance of anything good going before a 78-47 wipeout loss at Verizon Center.

“We had too many turnovers (17) and not enough assists (eight),” said junior guard Demetrius Jackson.

Notre Dame set a season low for points in its most lopsided loss in the 16-year tenure of coach Mike Brey. At its lowest moment, the Irish trailed by a whopping 37.

This was an old-fashion beatdown by a conference blueblood who had tired of being kicked around by a relative conference newbie. Payback was delivered in waves of runs after the Tar Heels had lost three straight in three venues to the Irish.

North Carolina held Notre Dame to 30 percent from the field, 26.3 percent from 3.

“That's the best I've seen them defensively all year,” Brey said. “They weren't guarding like that in South Bend (a February win for Notre Dame after committing only two turnovers). They smothered us and shut us down.”

One day after a season-high 18 turnovers in an overtime victory over Duke, Notre Dame again kicked it around way too many times – including 10 in the decisive first half. No amount of efficient offense can overcome that high a number against a team picked to go really far – maybe the furthest – in next week's NCAA tournament.

“We know,” junior guard Steve Vasturia said of the sloppiness and shakiness, “we're better than that.”

Jackson finished 1-of-10 from the floor with three turnovers. Vasturia turned it over twice and missed all six of his shots.

Thursday's overtime comeback aside, the inability to take care of the ball left the Irish frustrated that they really never showed during their two-game run in Washington what they felt they could show. That they could play fast and free and flow and just might make it a tournament championship repeat.

They arrived ready to roll through postseason. They leave Saturday for South Bend maybe wondering what direction it's all headed.

“It was tough for us to get in a rhythm,” said senior power forward Zach Auguste, who returned with six points and 10 rebounds after his 19-22 effort the previous day. “No need to talk about it now, man. It's behind us.”

For as much as turnovers were an early issue, Notre Dame still found itself down by only one point with 6:12 remaining when Bonzie Colson dropped in a rebound basket. All seemed well.

But then the turnovers and offensive struggles arrived. The Irish finished the rest of the half with zero baskets and five turnovers from four different players. The more they tried to take care of it, the more they pressed and the more Carolina tightened its defensive screws.

So long, poise. Hello, panic.

When Nate Britt tossed in a long wing 3 at the halftime horn, the Irish evening had effectively ended. They were down 19 points at the break. They had scored a season-low 22 points in the opening 20 minutes. They also had run out of gas emotionally and physically after expending so much of it in a quarterfinal comeback for the ages.

“It's out of character for us,” Jackson said of the turnovers. “It starts with myself as the point guard. I've gotta take better care of the ball. It starts with me.”

North Carolina's run topped out at 24-0 as Notre Dame labored over 11 minutes without a field goal.

“We started off OK, but didn't have that edge,” Auguste said.

Better find it. Fast.

• Former Notre Dame standout and Basketball Hall of Fame member Adrian Dantley was honored at halftime of Friday's game as one of the 2016 ACC Legends Class. Notre Dame was an independent during Dantley's three seasons in South Bend.

NOTRE DAME (21-11): Zach Auguste 3-6 0-0 6, Bonzie Colson 6-10 3-4 15,V.J. Beachem 4-7 0-2 11, Demetrius Jackson 1-10 6-7 9, Steve Vasturia 0-6 0-0 0, Ryan 1-4 0-0 3, Rex Pflueger 0-3 0-0 0, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Farrell 0-4 3-4 3,A.J. Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-50 12-17 47.

NORTH CAROLINA (27-6): Justin Jackson 5-14 1-2 11, Brice Johnson 4-6 4-4 12, Kennedy Meeks 3-6 1-2 7, Marcus Paige 5-9 2-2 16, Joel Berry II 5-8 0-0 12, Isaiah Hicks 5-12 1-4 11, Nate Britt 1-4 3-5 5, Theo Pinson 2-3 0-0 4, Joel James 0-3 0-0 0, Kenny Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Luke Maye 0-2 0-0 0, Stilman White 0-0 0-0 0, Justin Coleman 0-0 0-0 0,Toby Egbuna 0-1 0-0 0, Spenser Dalton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-69 12-19 78.

Halftime--North Carolina 41-22. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 5-19 (Beachem 3-6, Ryan 1-3, Jackson 1-5, Vasturia 0-1, Pflueger 0-2, Farrell 0-2), North Carolina 6-15 (Paige 4-7, Berry II 2-4, Britt 0-1, Pinson 0-1, Jackson 0-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 31 (Auguste 10), North Carolina 49 (Hicks 15). Assists--Notre Dame 8 (Farrell 3), North Carolina 21 (Paige 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 18, North Carolina 17. A--20,719.

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North Carolina's Joel Berry II, left, and Marcus Paige, right, pressure Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)