NCAA Tournament: Determined Notre Dame digs in to advance

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK — Roasted by words from their head coach at halftime, two of the more quiet guys on the Notre Dame men's basketball team picked the right time to let their games speak loudly.

After being 20 minutes away from bowing out of the 2016 NCAA Tournament with barely a whimper while seemingly refusing to put up any sort of a fight, No. 6 seed Notre Dame (22-11) now sits 40 minutes away from a second-straight trip to the Sweet 16.

V.J. Beachem made all seven of his shots from the field while Steve Vasturia grabbed the first 60 seconds of the second half to show everyone that everything indeed would be different.

And then it was.

Notre Dame erased a 12-point halftime deficit with a determined toughness that was more than enough to drop No. 11 seed Michigan, 70-63, during first-round East Region play at Barclays Center.

The game ended ended at 12:07 a.m. Saturday.

Zak Irvin had a chance to tie it at 66 in the closing seconds, but his 3 didn't fall before Bonzie Colson smothered the rebound and hit two free throws with 11.1 seconds left.

Notre Dame moves on to Sunday’s second round to face No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin (28-5), which beat No. 3 West Virginia in the evening’s first game. That second-round game will start at approximately 2:40 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

Michigan was in Brooklyn following a play-in game victory over Tulsa two nights earlier in Dayton, Ohio. After hitting 51.6 percent of their shots in the first half, the Wolverines labored to shoot 28.1 percent in the second half.

Part of that may have been fatigue, but part of that also was more attention to detail on defense by Notre Dame.

"We really guarded," coach Mike Brey said. "That's kind of who we've been when our life is flashing before our eyes, we defended.

"Maybe we'll defend a little longer on Sunday."

The Irish had to defend and be better in the second half, something Brey told his troops in no uncertain terms at intermission. He even admitted there was a point where he started to "lose it."

"I challenged them," he said. "I told them, 'You know, you guys are really nice guys and I love you, but either you're going to do something or it's going to be the North Carolina game all over again.'"

Notre Dame lost that game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament by a whopping 31 points. There would be no repeat effort on Friday. The Irish refused to go quietly, and were more willing to take a stand.

It started in the opening minute of the second half when Steve Vasturia drove it hard to the hoop for a layup, then knocked in a 3-pointer to give the Irish some life and bring them back within seven.

"I just tried to provide a spark," Vasturia said. "I don't think we played our best half in the first half (far from it). We needed to get going. I just wanted to get a loose ball, get on the floor a little bit."

Once the Irish saw the mild-mannered Vasturia willing to do the tough stuff, everyone else fell in line and raised their collective consciousness to be better.

"He started to show emotion in the second half," Brey said. "That's great. Don't hold back. There's plenty of time to rest in late-April."

With Notre Dame's win, the ACC finished first-round play 6-1. Only Pittsburgh failed to advance out of the opening round. The Irish were the only No. 6 seed to win their opening game.

Notre Dame roared back early in the second half to make it a one-possession game twice within the first seven minutes. After a few empty possessions, freshman forward Matt Ryan connected on a wing 3 with 12:18 left to tie it at 48.

"It was cool," Ryan said of the massive shot. "I was in rhythm, felt good, let it fly."

Beachem followed with a wing 3 to cap a 22-7 spurt and give the Irish their first lead, 51-48, with 9:24 to go.

"I had my feet set and was just able to knock it down," said Beachem, who scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half. "It was really our movement."

It didn’t last long. Unable to make any sort of shot for a good chunk of the half, Michigan responded with 3s from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Irvin to go up three, 54-51, with 8:17 left.

Another Beachem 3 tied it again at 56 with 6:19 left.

Another Beachem 3 gave the Irish a 62-59 lead with 3:19 left.

A Beachem pull-up then made it 64-59 with 3:09 left.

"Just staying focused and taking my time, not rushing it on my jump-shot," Beachem said of the deepening confidence in his game. "Really, all of them were open shots. We just had great movement and the guys found me.

"I was just able to step up and knock them down."

Once it became a two-possession game, the entire tone of the game changed. Notre Dame played with a surge in confidence; Michigan felt the pressure starting to take its toll.

"We pulled together and tried to stay poised," guard Demetrius Jackson said. "It really got going the second half. We started sticking together, started defending better."

Late lethargy to end the first half troubled the Irish at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and again appeared Friday. A Zach Auguste lay-in with just under two minutes remaining brought the Irish within five points. But that was the end of any good.

Michigan raced away with the final seven points, kick-started by a pair of Irish turnovers — to take a 41-29 lead at intermission.

One question likely hovered inside the Notre Dame locker room — were they going to go out like this? Or would they dig and do some tough stuff in the second half?

"Coach got on our (butts) at halftime," Ryan said. "He said, 'All right, enough being Country Club Notre Dame guys. Start being men and take it from them.'

"That's what we did."

"Coach came in here with passion," Auguste said. "He talked us up. We were ready."

"Coach Brey got us fired us, being passionate," Jackson said.

A 10-0 run by Michigan when Notre Dame could do little right offensively – take care of the ball, make a shot, run something, anything – dropped the Irish into all-too-familiar territory barely halfway through the first half.

When Derrick Walton Jr., took off with a steal, layup and Irish foul, the higher-seeded team suddenly trailed 24-13. It marked the fifth time in the last six games Notre Dame had been down by double digits.

Back to scramble mode. Scramble for your life mode. Your season.

"Michigan sped us up and we played at a different tempo that we usually don't do," Auguste said. "That forced us into turnovers playing too fast."

Notre Dame fielded its fifth different starting lineup, and perhaps its most unusual since senior power forward A.J. Burgett came from seemingly nowhere to make the first of his four starts Jan. 31 against Wake Forest.

Looking to get his offense in gear and take better care of the basketball after Notre Dame committed 15 turnovers in two ACC tournament games last week, Brey tabbed Farrell to give the Irish a three-guard starting lineup.

It was the first start of Farrell’s career. He finished with five points and four assists.

Farrell did not play in the ACC tournament overtime victory over Duke before getting 16 minutes – his high in a league game – the next night in the loss to North Carolina.

Prior to logging 15 minutes in the regular-season finale against North Carolina State, Farrell had played a total of 13 minutes the previous nine games, which included five DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision).

Notre Dame still had trouble taking care of the ball. The Irish finished with 16 turnovers, and now have a whopping 51 in the last three games.

But the next one is the only one that counts.

"We're going to have to be poised," Auguste said.


MICHIGAN (23-13): Irvin 4-16 0-0 9, Donnal 4-9 1-2 9, Walton Jr. 4-13 0-1 10, Abdur-Rahkman 5-12 2-2 15, Robinson 3-7 0-0 9, Dakich 0-0 0-0 0, Wagner 3-3 0-0 6, Dawkins 2-3 0-0 5, Doyle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 3-5 63.

NOTRE DAME (22-11): Beachem 7-7 0-0 18, Auguste 4-5 2-5 10, Farrell 2-4 0-0 5, Jackson 4-8 2-2 11, Vasturia 3-11 2-2 9, Pflueger 0-1 2-2 2, Ryan 1-2 0-0 3, Colson 4-5 4-4 12. Totals 25-43 12-15 70.

Halftime--Michigan 41-29. 3-Point Goals--Michigan 10-27 (Abdur-Rahkman 3-4, Robinson 3-5, Walton Jr. 2-6, Dawkins 1-2, Irvin 1-9, Donnal 0-1), Notre Dame 8-15 (Beachem 4-4, Ryan 1-2, Farrell 1-2, Jackson 1-3, Vasturia 1-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Michigan 25 (Abdur-Rahkman, Irvin, Robinson, Walton Jr. 4), Notre Dame 33 (Auguste 12). Assists--Michigan 18 (Walton Jr. 8), Notre Dame 12 (Vasturia 5). Total Fouls--Michigan 14, Notre Dame 9. A--17,502.

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Notre Dame's Zach Auguste (30) is fouled by Michigan's Mark Donnal during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN II)