Lesar: V.J. Beachem's disappearing act hurts Notre Dame in drubbing from Virginia

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — First place in the nation’s elite college basketball conference is fragile. Coveted.

For the moment, it’s off Notre Dame’s radar.

Tuesday night’s 71-54 loss to No. 12 Virginia dropped the 14th-ranked Irish out of the ACC’s penthouse and into introspection mode.

Saturday’s trip to Georgia Tech can’t come soon enough. The rancid taste of a mid-season blowout — that really didn’t get lopsided until the final six minutes – needs a good cleansing.

The loss was bad enough. But the way it happened could be disturbing as the season plays out.

Remember V.J. Beachem against Syracuse? Man, the Irish senior was on fire: 30 points, 12-of-22 shooting, 6-of-10 on 3-pointers.

Where’d that guy go Tuesday night? Beachem had three points, 1-of-10 from the field, whiffed on all five 3s.

Talk about inconsistent.

“V.J. had great looks. He just missed them,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “He had some good looks in the first half, and that’s the kind of thing that gets him going. Second half, he forced a couple, but everybody did.

“For V.J. to get into the flow … If he makes a couple in the first half, he feels better.”

Just when it looked like Beachem was about to reach a point of delivering steady performances, a level in which he avoids the occasional disappearing act, POOF! He’s gone.

Now ya see him, now ya don’t.

“We got some great looks, especially to start the game,” said Beachem. “We usually knock those down.

“The reason we weren’t defending that well is because we got caught up in our offense and how we weren’t flowing. It ended us biting us on the other end.”

That’s the indictment. Even when the offense is struggling, hanging one's head on defense shouldn’t be a factor. Instead, it was a problem that —three years and 21 games into his Notre Dame career — Beachem shouldn’t have to battle.

“Overall we’ve been really good at that this year,” said Brey. “That’s where this team has been better than teams I’ve had in the past: Offensive woes, not hanging their heads on the defensive end. The accumulation of not getting into any rhythm took its toll on us tonight.”

Virginia was able to accomplish its mission: Control the tempo, stifle Notre Dame’s transition, and make the Irish work for everything they got. The deliberate half-court pace took Notre Dame out of its comfort zone, especially when the 3-point shot isn’t falling.

Virginia’s not No. 12 in the country by accident. The Cavaliers’ defense was good, but hardly dominating enough to limit the Irish to 17 percent from 3-point range (when they normally hit 41 percent) and 65 percent (they normally hit 83 percent) from the free throw line.

Panic and frustration were able to trump calm and composure.

“(We) try to stay patient; try to stay within the offense,” said Beachem. “Sometimes you realize, you might not get a better look than one that’s five seconds into the shot clock. You have to be ready to attack then. You can’t overthink it.

“You can’t get caught up playing at their pace, playing slow. You have to take good shots wherever they are.”

Of course, when the shots aren’t falling, what does it matter?

Hit 2 of 10 from 3-point and trail by one at halftime? The Irish didn’t feel too badly about that.

While both teams were clanking plenty of shots (both shot 44 percent), the most entertaining segment was the 10 minutes played by freshman Kyle Guy, last year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball, from Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

The Notre Dame student section serenaded him with the chant of “man bun,” referring to the hairstyle he’ll likely regret when looking back at photos 20 years from now.

When Guy returned for garbage time in the second half, the students were silent.

No fun to ridicule when there’s a beat-down going on.

All that’s left is to look in the mirror.

Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem (3) fights with Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins (21) for a rebound during the Virginia's 71-54 victory, Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)