Notre Dame captain Steve Vasturia does it again to beat Louisville

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – That guy did it again.

With a second-straight Atlantic Coast Conference contest there for the taking, senior captain Steve Vasturia again made sure to grab it for No. 23 Notre Dame.

In the closing minute of Wednesday’s late game against No. 9 Louisville, Vasturia forced a steal on the defensive end, then connected on a one-handed runner in the lane in a late shot clock situation to nudge Notre Dame a 77-70 victory.

The Irish move to 13-2 overall, 2-0 in the ACC for the second time in three seasons. Having allowed a season high for points and having played its fourth-consecutive game against a ranked team, Louisville falls to 12-3, 0-2.

It’s the sixth-straight time that Notre Dame has beaten Louisville in Purcell Pavilion.

Four nights after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds to play in the league opener at Pittsburgh, Vasturia scored a career high 24 points with six rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 37 minutes.

He just refused to let the Irish lose.

One either end.

Sixty-five seconds remained with Notre Dame up two and Matt Farrell at the free throw line. He connected on his first and had just released his second when Mike Brey barked to his five on the floor, “We need a stop!”

Vasturia heard him. And almost laughed.

“The ball was still in the air (and) I could hear it,” Vasturia said. “I think he just was trying to get us fired up, get the crowd fired up. It was pretty funny you could hear it.”

Vasturia then went to work. Deng Adel tried to drive it on Irish senior captain V.J. Beachem, who had been struggling something fierce on the offensive end all night. Beachem held his ground, forced Adel to lose his balance and then the ball. Vasturia came up with it and fired it to Farrell.

“That was a big stop,” Vasturia said. “We knew if we could get one more, we would win the game. We were able to get enough of those tonight.”

Up three, the Irish needed a bucket on the other end, and went right back to No. 32.

He delivered.

Again.

Notre Dame had staggered through nearly six minutes without a field goal after sophomore Rex Pflueger connected on a key 3 from the far corner to put the home team up four with 6:12 remaining. No other Irish scored a basket until Vasturia in the final 20 seconds.

Needing to make something somehow happen. Vasturia drove it hard into the lane past Jaylen Johnson and around Adel. With the shot clock five seconds from expiring and no other options likely, Vasturia let go with a running one-hander that dropped and pushed the Irish up five with 20 seconds remaining.

“They had some mismatches playing two bigs so they had a big guy on me,” Vasturia said. “I figured I could get into the lane and try and get something up. I was able to get by him and it felt good.

“I was pumped.”

Game effectively over.

After letting close games against Villanova and Purdue get away, Notre Dame has won two really close ones to start league play.

“Confidence-wise, it’s huge,” Vasturia said. “Not just for me, but for the team. We like being in these situations.”

Farrell added 22 points, three rebounds and two assists.

“I think I’ve got the best guards in the country,” Brey said. “They’re the toughest; no one will talk about it like that. Those two guys are tough. They’re fearless. Right now they’re setting an unbelievable tone for us in league play.”

Bonzie Colson added his second double-double for points (18) and rebounds (14) in as many conference contests. It was his ninth this season. His free throw with 1:36 remaining gave the Irish a one-point lead. He then grabbed a loose ball off a failed lob on the other end.

“We just have to continue to learn, continue to grow from here,” Colson said.

Donovan Mitchell led the Cardinals with 20 points.

Notre Dame won this one thanks in part to the free throw line. Able to get into the bonus early and drive it hard, the Irish finished 22-of-25 (88 percent) from the line. They were 15-of-16 (93.8 percent) in the second half.

"We played well enough to win tonight,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “But if you have a free-throw shooting contest with Notre Dame, you're going to lose.”

Even when their offense wasn’t flowing, the Irish remained committed to digging in and defending. Notre Dame held Louisville to 39.1 percent from the floor, 25.9 percent from 3. The Irish also won the rebounding battle (38-35) despite allowing 14 offensive rebounds that the Cardinals turned into 15 second-chance points.

Louisville’s pressure really bothered Notre Dame for one of the few times in the storied series. The Irish had trouble bringing it up, had trouble making passes in the halfcourt, had trouble inbounding it. Just had trouble period.

At one point late in the second half, the Irish had 11 turnovers to only five assists. They finished with 12 turnovers and six assists.

Notre Dame had no answer early for Mitchell. Coming off a career-high 25 points in Saturday’s win over Indiana, where he came off the bench, Mitchell was back in the starting lineup Wednesday and looking to attack at every opportunity.

Vasturia brought the building to life with a 3 to put the Irish up six late in the first half. Mitchell then answered with a wing 3 of his own to slice it in half. As it fell, Mitchell motioned to the crowd to sit down and be quiet. He was rolling.

Mitchell led everyone with 16 points in the first half.

That was 16 more than Beachem, who drifted through a way-too-quiet opening period. Beachem finished with no points and no shot attempts in 16 minutes as he tried to figure out how to solve a steady stream of long and lanky defenders run his way. But even when the Cardinals put point guard Quentin Snider on him – who was giving up six inches – Beachem couldn’t really get anything going.

He simply didn’t look to score. Against Snider. Against anyone.

“With him, I thought he helped us move,” Brey said. “He’s that senior presence out there that helps us flow. A lot of times, it will come back to him. The worst thing to do is to over-analyze him.

“He needs to get right back on the horse on Saturday and keep playing and it could be his day.”

Beachem then returned with the first Irish bucket of the second half – a pull-up jumper from the foul line. It was his only basket. He finished with two points on three shots.

Having led by double digits in all 13 non-conference games before trialing by double digits (11) in Saturday’s conference opener, Notre Dame jumped into another double-digit lead with 12:12 remaining following a Torres steal and rebound follow, which made it 17-7.

Wednesday was Notre Dame’s third and final 9 p.m. home game of the regular season. The late start allowed Louisville to adjust its travel plans. Instead of coming in the night before as his standard, the Cardinals’ traveling party arrived around 2 p.m. – seven hours before tip-off – following a 42-minute charter flight out of Kentucky.

Pitino kept his team’s itinerary under wraps when asked about it during his Tuesday press conference.

“None of your business,” Pitino responded when asked if the Cardinals had planned to travel Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon.

Notre Dame closes a conference stretch of three games in eight days Saturday at home against Clemson. Then it’s three-straight road games – against Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech and Florida State, the last two teams are nationally ranked, before returning home Jan. 21 against struggling Syracuse.

“This one’s over; we’ve got a tough one with Clemson,” Colson said. “We’ve got to continue to do our thing.”

No. 23 NOTRE DAME 77, No. 9 LOUISVILLE 70

LOUISVILLE (12-3): Spalding 3-6 0-1 6, Mahmoud 2-4 2-2 6, Adel 4-13 1-2 10, Snider 4-10 1-2 12, Mitchell 7-20 4-4 20, Johnson 1-2 3-4 5, King 1-3 0-0 2, Mathiang 2-3 0-0 4, McMahon 1-3 2-3 5, Levitch 0-0 0-0 0, Hicks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-64 13-18 70.

NOTRE DAME (13-2): Colson 5-14 8-10 18, Beachem 1-3 0-0 2, Geben 0-1 0-0 0, Farrell 6-15 8-9 22, Vasturia 9-15 4-4 24, Torres 2-2 2-2 6, Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Pflueger 1-2 0-0 3, Gibbs 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 25-57 22-25 77.

Halftime--Notre Dame 42-37. 3-Point Goals--Louisville 7-27 (Snider 3-7, Mitchell 2-10, McMahon 1-3, Adel 1-6, King 0-1), Notre Dame 5-12 (Farrell 2-4, Vasturia 2-4, Pflueger 1-2, Gibbs 0-1, Ryan 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Louisville 32 (Spalding 10), Notre Dame 34 (Colson 14). Assists--Louisville 14 (Mitchell 5), Notre Dame 6 (Farrell 2). Total Fouls--Louisville 21, Notre Dame 17. A--8,420 (9,149).

tnoie@ndinsider.com | (574) 235-6153 | @tnoieNDI

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) puts up a shot during the Louisville at Notre Dame men’s basketball at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)