Slump just a basketball bump for Notre Dame swingman V.J. Beachem

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS – Shooting struggles of college basketball seasons past often saw Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem seek one solution.

Get in the gym. Get up shots. Watch video of his stroke. Obsess over the hows and whys the ball wasn’t going in the basket. Live the game 24/7. Eat, sleep and drink ways of being better.

Work.

All of it often left the quiet kid from Fort Wayne wondering. Would he still get the same amount of shots? Still play the same amount of minutes? Was his starting job in jeopardy? Would a shot that looks so pure and true when it leaves his right hand ever again feel good?

The more Beachem wondered, the less he could function inside the framework of coach Mike Brey’s system. He struggled to defend. To rebound. Instead of working out of his funk, he’d fall into an abyss.

That’s all changed this season as a main guy, a veteran, a captain. Beachem saw his personal-best run of 15 straight games having scored double figures dating back to the end of last season end in last week’s loss to top-ranked Villanova. He scored a season-low four points on 2-of-11 from the floor, 0-for-5 from 3.

Instead of wondering how it went wrong, Beachem focused on how to be better. But not right away.

With six days away before No. 21 Notre Dame (9-1) returned to game action in Saturday’s annual Crossroads Classic (2 p.m., ESPN2) against No. 15 Purdue (8-2), Beachem took a more cerebral approach to getting his game back in gear.

He stepped away from the gym for a few hours earlier this week. With few final-exam responsibilities, Beachem instead watched movies (one of them was Burn After Reading) and played video games (Battlefield 1 was his main choice).

The game could wait.

“I was just chilling on my own,” Beachem said. “Having this time off and not playing a game for a whole week was great for me because I got to not worry about the game for a little bit.

“I really treated the first few days of this week like the summer.”

How high has Beachem raised his bar? He’s averaging career bests for points (15.5), rebounds (4.6), free throw percentage (83.3) and minutes (32.1). But his 3-point field goal percentage (33.3) is the lowest since his freshman season, which leads to the most popular question around the Irish — what’s up with Beachem?

“I’m not worried about V.J. at all,” said guard Matt Farrell. “We need him to keep shooting. We need him to be aggressive.”

Beachem started strong – he tied his career high with 22 points in the opener against Bryant – and remained his steady self through the first half-dozen games. If his shot wasn’t falling, like against Northwestern when he went 3-of-11, Beachem found other ways to impact games. Against the Wildcats, he went to the foul line seven times.

The following week against Iowa, he was 1-of-4 from the floor the first 30 minutes before erupting for 11 points in just over four minutes.

“He’s kind of a guy that all of a sudden can strike,” Brey said. “He’s kind of an ebb and flow guy. Hopefully we get flow more than ebb.”

It’s been more ebb the last two games. Beachem is 6-of-25 from the floor, 2-for-16 from 3. His only two baskets against Villanova were layups. Still, Beachem was in position to give the Irish the lead with less than three minutes remaining.

With Notre Dame down by one, Beachem worked free for a wing 3 that rolled around and bounced out. Beachem felt so sure with the shot that he kept his right hand extended in a shooter’s pose.

“He had unbelievably clean looks the other day,” Brey said. “He knows he’s going to be in there long enough where it’s going to come around to him. He’s not forcing stuff to get himself going.”

That comes with the poise and patience of a seasoned senior. He’s going to get his minutes. He’s going to get his looks. He’s going to hit shots. But he also knows that as his shot doesn’t drop, the more he may need to force something earlier in games instead of waiting for it to unfold for him.

Getting something at the rim, or getting fouled and knocking in free throws, might get him in more of a flow.

“If I can get an easy one early, that would definitely help me out a lot,” he said. “Just getting into the rhythm of the game makes things a lot easier.”

Beachem would love to find an early rhythm Saturday against Purdue in a building where he played really well (18 points) last year. The Irish are in bounce-back mode after the Villanova loss, and Beachem is ready to bounce back.

“If I can play better, than can take us to a whole ‘nother level even though we’re really good right now,” Beachem said. “If I can take my game to another level, I truly think the sky’s the limit for us.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

2016 Crossroads Classic

WHO: No. 21 Notre Dame (9-1) vs. No. 15 Purdue (8-2).

WHERE: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (18,165), Indianapolis.

WHEN: Saturday at 2 p.m.

TICKETS: The game is a sellout.

TV: ESPN2.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

NOTING: Purdue has been idle since a 77-53 home victory over Cleveland State on Dec. 10. ... Purdue’s losses have been at home to No. 1 Villanova (three points) and at No. 11 Louisville (seven). …Five Boilermakers average double figures for points led by Caleb Swanigan (15.9); nine average at least 15.1 minutes, also led by Swanigan (30.6). … The Boilermakers have been ranked every week this season and in each of the last 25 polls. They’ve been ranked as high as 15th this season. … Purdue returns three starters off last year’s NCAA tournament team that finished 26-9, 12-6 and tied for third place in the Big Ten. … Purdue opened the week ranked third in the Big Ten for scoring offense (83.7 ppg.), eighth for scoring defense (64.7), second in scoring margin (+19.0) and assist/turnover ratio (+1.4) and first in field goal percentage (50.4), 3-point field goal percentage (44.1) and assists (20.2). ... The Irish have won four straight and eight of their last nine games against the Big Ten. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 22-20, 10-4 at neutral sites, and has won the last three. … Notre Dame is 3-2 all-time in the Crossroads Classic, including two wins over Purdue, which is 0-5. … This is the first Crossroads matchup with both teams ranked. … No. 18 Butler and No. 9 Indiana meet in Saturday’s second game. The Irish return to action Monday at home against Colgate.

QUOTING: “The real test is how you bounce back from it.”

• Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem on how the Irish will respond to last week’s loss to top-ranked Villanova.