Steady senior Steve Vasturia delivers winning 3 for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH – Saddled with foul trouble and struggling to get in any sort of successful rhythm for most of Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia just stayed steady.

And ready.

Following a second-half stretch on the bench where the other five on the floor finally got in gear and got going to grab an eight-point lead after earlier trailing by as many as 11, Vasturia returned in time to make three winning plays when it mattered, including the decisive 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining.

His late work, and the visitor’s determination to keep pushing and keep playing, delivered No. 24 Notre Dame a 78-77 road overtime victory at Petersen Events Center.

It’s the sixth-straight overtime victory for Notre Dame (12-2; 1-0 ACC).

“We do something right in overtime,” said Irish guard Matt Farrell. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who never give up.”

The Irish looked down and all but out in regulation and in the five-minute overtime. Notre Dame trailed by five with 2:43 remaining in regulation, then again by five with 2:13 left in overtime, but found ways to keep working.

And, eventually, win.

Much of that was thanks to Vasturia, who never could get out of his own way for most of the day. But when the Irish needed someone to make a shot with the clock running down and time set to expire, No. 32 stepped in, shot-faked and delivered.

Boom!

“Just kind of trusting in my shot,” Vasturia said.

And the end result?

“Kinda new,” shrugged Vasturia, who finished with 15 points, 10 in the final 25 seconds of regulation and the five-minute extra session.

It’s the first end-of-game winner that Vasturia could remember of his collegiate career, really in his basketball life. In the hectic moments that followed in the state where he was a schoolboy star over in Philadelphia, he couldn’t quickly think of another, other than one in the opposite corner that gave the Irish a late lead two years ago against Duke.

But there was plenty of time left in that one. Not so Saturday. Just when it looked like everything was falling apart for the guys in blue, it all came together.

Down by two after a Jamel Artis leaner with 42.2 seconds remaining, Notre Dame looked to Vasturia. His first shot fell way short, but he grabbed the rebound with 21 seconds remaining. He moved the ball to teammate Rex Pflueger.

It then got a whole lot crazy.

Pflueger dribbled a few times before finding Farrell. With the clock under 10 seconds and everything scrambled, Farrell’s first instinct was to drive it hard, maybe get a shot up the way he did earlier in the year in a similar situation against Northwestern and get fouled. As Farrell’s momentum pushed him toward the hoop, he lost his balance and stumbled through the lane.

He had enough presence of mind to spot Vasturia in the left corner in front of the Irish bench.

Sort of.

“That was crazy,” Farrell said. “If Steve wasn’t there, I don’t know what I would have done. I was hoping somebody’s got to be there (in the corner). I don’t think I really saw him. Just an unbelievable play.

“Steve’s a dog, man. Steve’s a dog.”

Vasturia grabbed Farrell’s pass and eyed Pittsburgh defender Cameron Johnson closing quickly. Vasturia shot-faked Johnson into the air, took an escape dribble and fired with 2.8 seconds to play.

Bucket.

“What else do you expect? Steve from the corner, man,” said senior captain V.J. Beachem. “We work on that move all the time and he just knocked it down.”

Irish coach Mike Brey wasn’t the least bit surprised. Tough night for one of the team captains? What tough night?

“The guy has made more big shots throughout his career,” Brey said. “You’ve just go to keep coming back to him. I’d have been shocked if it didn’t go down.”

Beachem stole the ensuing inbound pass to seal it.

Out of sorts much of the day, Vasturia delivered in the biggest of times – winning time on the road. Prior to his decisive 3, he tied it at 75 with 1:11 remaining in overtime with a transition 3 from the other wing. And late in regulation, with his game seemingly going nowhere fast, he made two free throws with 25.2 seconds left to tie it at 68.

“Just staying ready,” Vasturia said. “I never lose confidence in myself with what’s going on in the game. There’s ups and downs in games.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in myself to just stay positive, stay aggressive.”

Overtime was necessitated after two Irish defensive stops in the closing seconds. That included a Beachem block of a Johnson corner 3.

Artis and Michael Young each scored 25 points for the panthers (11-3; 0-1). Pittsburgh had plenty of chances to put Notre Dame away. Instead, it didn’t. Couldn’t.

“They just made one more winning play than we did,” said coach Kevin Stallings. “It’s very disappointing for us, but that’s the nature of this league.”

On a day when No. 5 Duke, No. 10 North Carolina and No. 12 Virginia all lost its conference openers, it was No. 24 Notre Dame that found a way. Winning on the last Saturday of the year was extra special given how two earlier December Saturdays had transpired.

Notre Dame let an 11-point lead of top-ranked Villanova get away on Dec. 10. Seven days later, it couldn’t hold a 17-point lead in a loss to No. 15 Purdue.

Somewhere along the line, Brey told his guys, those experiences were going to help them get one of those wins back.

They got it back on Saturday.

“Huge,” Vasturia said. “Winning any kind of game in this league is tough, especially on the road. We kept battling back.”

• No. 24 NOTRE DAME 78, PITTSBURGH 77, OT

At Pittsburgh

NOTRE DAME (12-2): Martinas Geben 4-4 2-2 10, Bonzie Colson 10-20 1-1 21, V.J. Beachem 3-10 0-2 6, Matt Farrell 6-14 0-1 16, Steve Vasturia 4-12 4-4 15, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Rex Pflueger 1-2 0-0 3, T.J. Gibbs 3-6 0-0 7. Totals 31-69 7-10 78.

PITTSBURGH (11-3): Sheldon Jeter 3-10 0-0 6, Michael Young 10-24 1-1 25, Jamel Artis 9-17 2-2 25, Cameron Johnson 4-12 4-7 14, Justice Kithcart 0-2 0-0 0, Ryan Luther 1-4 0-0 3, Rozelle Nix 0-0 0-0 0, Jonathan Milligan 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Jones 0-3 4-4 4. Totals 27-72 11-14 77.

Halftime--Pittsburgh 36-34. End Of Regulation--Tied 68. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 9-27 (Farrell 4-7, Vasturia 3-8, Pflueger 1-2, Gibbs 1-3, Ryan 0-1, Colson 0-1, Beachem 0-5), Pittsburgh 12-31 (Artis 5-8, Young 4-9, Johnson 2-8, Luther 1-2, Jones 0-1, Kithcart 0-1, Jeter 0-2). Fouled Out--Geben. Rebounds--Notre Dame 36 (Colson 14), Pittsburgh 42 (Jeter 13). Assists--Notre Dame 18 (Vasturia 5), Pittsburgh 18 (Young 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 14, Pittsburgh 13.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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