Analysis: Attacking V.J. Beachem could push No. 15 Notre Dame from good to great

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A career day for Notre Dame senior swingman V.J. Beachem, had the makings of something special as far back as two Saturdays prior.

If only his confidence could carry through two long weeks and three road games.

It did, and man, was it something to see.

Feeling that he was bound to play well again at home, long before Notre Dame set foot back on the Purcell Pavilion floor, Beachem busted loose Saturday for a career-high 30 points as No. 15 Notre Dame led for nearly the entire way in an 84-66 victory over Syracuse.

The win snapped Notre Dame’s four-game losing streak to Syracuse.

How did Beachem know that Saturday would be his biggest day? He dropped 22 points, which matched his previous career high, on Clemson two weeks prior in an Atlantic Coast Conference home game. He shot it well from the floor (6-of-10 from 3) and played with the pace and poise under pressure a senior’s expected to in a conference game.

His pilot light was lit.

Trouble was, the Irish (17-3, 6-1 ACC) headed out on a three-game league road swing that saw them log some serious air miles (nearly 4,000). It would be a while before Beachem could get home with the familiar Wilson basketball in his hands and the inviting arena rims.

Could those good vibrations about his game remain?

Yep.

“Just being back in our own building and back in front of our home crowd, I just felt energized, just felt good,” Beachem said. “All the guys were finding me. It didn’t hurt that were playing against the zone, too.

“It was a great feeling being back.”

Beachem was good from the jump.

Feeling ready and relaxed, and focused on attacking the zone allowed Beachem to expand his game for one of the few times this season and really for the first time since all the tools in his box were on display for all to see last March in the NCAA tournament.

This was March-like for Beachem.

Midway through the first half, Beachem found space behind the back line of the Syracuse 2-3 zone to work around orange big man DaJuan Coleman and deliver a two-handed dunk to put the Irish up by four.

He wasn’t anywhere near done.

Next possession, with point guard Matt Farrell probing the 2-3 zone like no Irish point guard has in recent memory, Beachem dropped the hammer.

Farrell drove hard to the hole, with Beachem camped on the baseline in the short corner. Farrell probed, which forced Coleman to commit. Once he did, Farrell, lasered a nifty behind-the-back pass that Beachem finished with his trademark right-handed tomahawk.

Boom!

“I just got it, got in there and made a play,” Farrell said. “I think that got him going.”

That it did.

Beachem connected on a win 3 next time down to bump the Irish up nine. Next time down, he dropped in another 3, and added some flair to his finish.

The minute Beachem let it go from the wing, he held his hand in the classic shooter’s pose. He even started back down the court. He barely saw the ball go through the net. The eruption of the sellout crowd told him all he needed to know.

Bucket.

He was feeling it. The Irish were feeling it.

For Beachem, he went from good to really good with the attack dunks. He can stand outside and shoot it as well as anyone, but his game — and that of the Irish — takes on a different dimension when he’s heading downhill to the rim.

Once he does that, he’s got his picks of 3s. Here. There. Everywhere.

“The fact that they have to respect the drive really opens up the drive for me,” Beachem said. “I can’t say enough about my teammates continuing to find me.”

He just wasn’t going to be denied. Neither were the Irish.

Beachem finished 12-of-22 from the floor and 6-of-10 from 3. He added seven rebounds, two shy of his career high, with two blocks and a steal in 38 minutes. He did it all with a swagger seldom seen in conference play.

“We just couldn’t get to him,” lamented Orange coach Jim Boeheim. “He’s a tremendous player.”

With February closing quickly, this is the time of year when Irish coach Mike Brey counsels the Irish to start dreaming big dreams in terms of the regular-season conference championship, a double-bye in the league tournament and a really high seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s all there for the taking.

But when Beachem is playing as aggressively as he did Saturday, when he’s attacking and not settling, when he’s got some spice and swagger to his steady, senior’s game, the Irish could dream really bigger dreams. Special dreams.

Farrell shows no sign of backing off. Steve Vasturia remains solid and steady. Bonzie Colson continues to do the tough stuff around the paint, racking up double doubles for points and rebounds like nobody else in the league. Did it again Saturday, with 14 and 14.

Add Beachem to the bunch, and there may be no known ceiling for this group.

“Confidence,” Colson said, “is high.”

“When V.J.’s in attack mode,” Farrell said, “we can be really special.”

Already there.

No. 15 NOTRE DAME 84, SYRACUSE 66

SYRACUSE (66): Tyler Lydon 7-13 8-8 24, Taurean Thompson 0-4 0-0 0, Tyus Battle 6-14 4-7 17, John Gillon 0-1 0-0 0, Andrew White III 6-13 1-2 16, Tyler Roberson 0-2 0-0 0, DaJuan Coleman 2-3 1-2 5, Frank Howard 2-5 0-1 4. Totals 23-55 14-20 66.

NOTRE DAME (84): Bonzie Colson 4-8 6-6 14, Martinas Geben 1-1 5-6 7, V.J. Beachem 12-22 0-0 30, Steve Vasturia 3-9 4-4 11, Matt Farrell 6-10 0-0 15, Austin Torres 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Ryan 0-3 0-0 0, Rex Pflueger 2-4 0-0 5, T.J. Gibbs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-59 15-16 84.

Halftime--Notre Dame 41-32. 3-Point Goals--Syracuse 6-19 (White 3-7, Lydon 2-4, Battle 1-5, Gillon 0-1, Howard 0-2), Notre Dame 11-26 (Beachem 6-10, Farrell 3-5, Pflueger 1-3, Vasturia 1-6, Ryan 0-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Syracuse 26 (Lydon 10), Notre Dame 38 (Colson 14). Assists--Syracuse 8 (Howard 4), Notre Dame 20 (Farrell 9). Total Fouls--Syracuse 16, Notre Dame 18. A--9,149 (9,149).

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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An attacking, aggressive V.J. Beachem may be just what this Notre Dame men's basketball team needs to go from good to great this season. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)