Notre Dame men grind basketball way past Saint Peter's

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – One weird win.

As non-conference play came to a close Wednesday, No. 24 Notre Dame will take it and run into Atlantic Coast Conference play.

In a game where the Irish had to grind it at both ends and were far from their best, far from anywhere close to the bar that was set early this season, the final score was all that mattered.

Notre Dame 63, Saint Peter’s 55.

Take it and move on. Sometimes, that’s the only choice. The Irish will do just that.

“Ugly wins are still wins,” said junior power forward Bonzie Colson, who finished with 10 points and a game-best eight rebounds. “It was an ugly game.”

V.J. Beachem scored a game-high 18 points and fellow senior captain Steve Vasturia added 11 as the Irish improved to 11-2 heading into league play, which commences Saturday at Pittsburgh.

“It’s a win,” Vasturia said. “At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”

It was an odd night in myriad ways for Notre Dame, which scored a season low for points while being forced to defend for long possessions before trying not to play too fast on the other end. The end results were mixed.

Sometimes the Irish played with poise and pace, other times, not so much.

Notre Dame tied its season high for turnovers (14) for a second-straight game. The Irish shot 49 percent from the floor, but only 31.6 percent from 3 and 69.2 percent (9-of-13) from the foul line.

The Irish entered the game the nation’s best from there at 85.6.

Weird.

“It’s one of those nights where we had to bring our own energy, and I don’t think we did,” Beachem said.

How weird a night was it? Sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, who played 218 total minutes in 12 games without a single turnover, committed two – one in each half. Junior guard Matt Farrell missed a free throw. He entered Wednesday having hit all 27 this season.

Weird, indeed.

“We got all the streaks out,” said coach Mike Brey. “Nobody’s protecting anything right now. The heck with the streaks. It’s great.

“Now we’re in a fist-fight for two and a half months, man, so let’s just go grind.”

Wednesday’s non-conference grind may serve a conference purpose. This game was scheduled with a specific Atlantic Coast Conference opponent in mind – Virginia, which comes to town Jan. 24. Like the Cavaliers, the Peacocks squeeze all they can out of the 30-second shot clock with movement and patience. On the other end, the Irish were limited in getting free by a defense that jammed up the middle and forced the ball to go to spots that weren’t always sweet for the home team.

As frustrating as it’s been for Notre Dame to play against Virginia, so too was it to play against Saint Peter’s.

“They’re hard to play against,” Brey said. “I think it will be a reference-point game for us.”

And that’s good. Find a way, was Brey’s message. There are many hard games next up on the schedule. Gotta deal with it then, so deal with it now.

The Irish did with defense. Even when the home team led by as many as 18 points early in the second half, the lead likely wasn’t going to stretch to 20, 30, even 40 points like so many other non-league home games.

Saint Peter’s wouldn’t let it. As a result, Notre Dame needed to guard, then held Saint Peter’s to 35.7 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from 3.

“I like how we defended,” Brey said.

Nick Griffin scored a team-high 16 points in his first start of the season for Saint Peter’s (5-7).

“I thought our energy for 40 minutes was really good,” Peacocks coach John Dunne said. “Our whole game plan was try to control tempo offensively, not let them get out in transition.

“Our effort was really, really good.”

Notre Dame managed only six fast-break points.

Rarely was Wednesday’s game easy on the eyes, but the Irish will take the end result.

“It wasn’t as exciting of a game as putting up 90 points, but we got a win and that’s good,” Vasturia said.

When Beachem connected on two free throws with 11:43 remaining, it gave the Irish a 19-9 lead. It also marked the 13th game in non-league play – all of them – that Notre Dame has led by at least 10 points.

The Irish led by as many as 14 in a first half that saw them score a season-low 33 points. Coming off a season-high 14 turnovers on Dec. 19 against Colgate, Notre Dame had eight in the first half.

Farrell’s older brother, Bo, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army who surprised the family at the previous home game, was back Wednesday taking in the game as a fan. He also traded his Army fatigues for a blue and gold Notre Dame long-sleeve shirt.

As ugly as Wednesday was, ugly can be good for Notre Dame starting Saturday.

“There are going to be a lot of different ways to win a game,” Vasturia said. “We’re not going to be at our best offensively every night. We have to find other ways to win like that in league play.”

That time is now.

ST. PETER'S (5-7): Quadir Welton 2-11 1-4 5, Trevis Wyche 1-8 2-2 4, Chazz Patterson 0-2 2-2 2, Nick Griffin 5-9 2-2 16, Nnamdi Enechionyia 3-5 0-0 8, Samuel Idowu 1-2 0-0 2, Mamadou Ndiaye 0-1 0-0 0, Cavon Baker 1-3 0-0 2, Antwon Portley 4-8 0-0 9, Quinn Taylor 3-6 1-1 7. Totals 20-55 8-11 55.

NOTRE DAME (11-2): Martinas Geben 2-3 0-0 4, V.J. Beachem 6-14 4-5 18, Bonzie Colson 5-10 0-0 10, Matt Farrell 2-5 1-2 6, Steve Vasturia 4-7 1-2 11, Elijah Burns 0-0 0-0 0, John Mooney 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 1-2 0-0 3, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Rex Pflueger 3-5 0-0 6, T.J. Gibbs 1-2 3-4 5, Totals 24-49 9-13 63.

Halftime--Notre Dame 33-23. 3-Point Goals--St. Peter's 7-23 (Griffin 4-8, Enechionyia 2-4, Portley 1-3, Taylor 0-1, Idowu 0-1, Patterson 0-1, Baker 0-2, Wyche 0-3), Notre Dame 6-18 (Vasturia 2-4, Beachem 2-6, Ryan 1-2, Farrell 1-3, Pflueger 0-1, Gibbs 0-1, Colson 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--St. Peter's 23 (Welton 8), Notre Dame 33 (Geben, Colson 7). Assists--St. Peter's 10 (Wyche, Welton 4), Notre Dame 15 (Farrell, Beachem, Vasturia 3). Total Fouls--St. Peter's 12, Notre Dame 12.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem (3) points at a teammate in celebration after making a basket during Wednesday's game against Saint Peter’s. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)