Second-half surge carries No. 25 Notre Dame men to ACC road win

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Heading down the homestretch of Atlantic Coast Conference play, No. 25 Notre Dame expected to enter what many considered the easier part of its league schedule.

But there was nothing easy about Tuesday’s game at last-place Boston College.

Nothing.

Down by 13 in the first half and by 10 with 15 minutes remaining, Notre Dame mustered some stops out of its 2-3 zone, got going from the free throw line and delivered an 84-76 victory at Conte Forum.

"We are really fortunate to get out of here with a win," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "In the first half, we just could not guard them. We defended better in the second half. We went zone and that changed their rhythm.

"We made some big shots and big free throws. Our guys have done that."

The Irish defense limited the home team to only 27 points in the second half. That tied a team low for points allowed in a second half by Notre Dame in league play.

Notre Dame held Boston College without a field goal the final 5:16. That helped the Irish overcome going the final 3:58 without a basket. The Irish scored their last six points from the free throw line.

Boston College got as close as two points on two Ky Bowman free throws with 56.8 seconds remaining.

The Irish improved to 20-7, 9-5 in the ACC. No team has more league wins as Notre Dame, which has won three in a row and snapped a three-game road losing streak. The Irish are 4-3 on the road.

"As a team, we're just rolling right now," said junior power forward Bonzie Colson, who scored a team-high 20 points. "We just need to keep it up."

Matt Farrell added 19 points. V.J. Beachem 16 points and Steve Vasturia 15.

"It's always good to come back here," said Colson, returning to his home area. "Happy we came out with a win. We needed that."

Vasturia had a team- and season-high seven assists.

"Steve is maybe the best all-around player I've ever coached," Brey said. "He figures out how to do other things."

Farrell committed to Boston College during his senior year of high school before de-committing and signing with Notre Dame. He scored 11 of his 19 in the second half.

"I was thinking about some extra stuff," Farrell said. "Some guys called me traitor. It was awesome. Awesome school. Just kind of another game. Definitely wanted to have fun playing here."

"Thank God we got him," Brey said.

The leading foul shooting team in the country, Notre Dame finished 19-of-21 (90.5 percent), including 11-of-13 in the second half.

"We make big free throws," Brey said. "It's an unbelievable weapon when we get in the bonus."

It was Notre Dame’s fourth game in 10 days. The Irish play only twice in the next 15 days. It was Notre Dame’s seventh straight win over Boston College since the teams became ACC colleagues.

Bowman led Boston College (9-18; 2-12) with 29 points.

"We had no answers for him," Brey said. "He got them confident in making them believe."

Down by 10 with 15:35 remaining and showing very few signs of life, the Irish promptly ran off on an 11-1 spurt fueled by three 3s to tie it at 59. Farrell had a pair of 3s in the run, which also featured Brey going back to a big lineup – with Austin Torres getting the call – and going to a zone look that finally slowed Boston College’s seemingly unstoppable offensive express.

Torres delivered a big block and then took a charge on the next Eagle offensive possession. Those defensive plays were sandwiched between a Colson rebound dunk to give the Irish their first lead at 61-59.

“Going zone helped us,” Brey said.

Colson scored again to cap a 15-1 run that featured 10 unanswered points.

The Irish threw together six-straight stops out of the zone to flip a 10-point deficit into a four-point lead in just over three minutes.

Notre Dame’s run topped out at 21-3 following another Farrell 3 to put the Irish up eight with 10:36 left.

"The first half we weren't playing with any energy or passion that we have to play with," Farrell said. "Energy and effort are two things we can control. The second half, we wanted to play with more passion."

The Irish held the Eagles without a field goal for more than five minutes early in the second half.

Colson entered Tuesday’s game back in his home area with some lofty credentials. On Monday, he earned ACC player of the week honors for the second time this season. On Tuesday, he was named the United States Basketball Writers Association player of the week after two big efforts in wins last week over Wake Forest and No. 16 Florida State.

Colson earned seven different player of the week honors for a week that saw him average 30 points and 14.5 rebounds. He turned it over twice on traveling calls in a first half that saw him get eight points and two rebounds.

Boston College got really comfortable really early. The Eagles connected on six of their first seven shots and led by eight before the first media timeout. It was easy – too easy – for the Eagles around the rim and on the perimeter.

Brey jumped back to a starting lineup that featured sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, who made the first start of the season and second of his career in last week’s home win over Wake Forest.

Pflueger then watched the guy he was guarding – Bowman – connect on his first three 3-pointers before T.J. Gibbs was in the game before the under-16 minute timeout.

Averaging 13.5 points coming in, Bowman hit for 17 in a first half that saw the Irish never lead and trail by as many as 13.

Notre Dame allowed a season-high 49 points in the first half. Boston College shot 58.6 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from 3. The Eagles were able to get any shot from any spot for the first 20 minutes.

"They cut us up left, right," Brey said. "We had no answer for it."

The Irish were more than a step slow – make it two and three steps – trying to get a stop. They couldn’t get many.

Brey said after Saturday’s win over Florida State that it was his team’s most complete 40 minutes of the season. What followed in Massachusetts was arguably its worst.

• No. 25 NOTRE DAME 84, BOSTON COLLEGE 76

At Conte Forum

NOTRE DAME (84): V.J. Beachem 5-13 2-2 16, Bonzie Colson 9-12 2-4 20, Matt Farrell 6-14 2-2 19, Steve Vasturia 4-13 6-6 15, Rex Pflueger 2-3 3-3 7, Matt Ryan 1-2 0-0 3, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, T.J. Gibbs 0-4 4-4 4. Totals 27-62 19-21 84.

BOSTON COLLEGE (76): A.J. Turner 3-5 0-0 7, Mo Jeffers 4-5 4-4 12, Jerome Robinson 3-12 5-8 11, Jordan Chatman 0-3 0-0 0, Ky Bowman 8-15 8-8 29, Garland Owens 2-2 0-0 5, Mike Sagay 1-3 0-0 3, Nick Popovic 1-5 0-0 2, Connar Tava 3-3 1-2 7, Matt DiLuccio 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 18-22 76.

Halftime--Boston College 49-39. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 11-31 (Farrell 5-11, Beachem 4-10, Ryan 1-2, Vasturia 1-7, Gibbs 0-1), Boston College 8-20 (Bowman 5-11, Owens 1-1, Turner 1-2, Sagay 1-2, Robinson 0-1, Chatman 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 30 (Beachem 8), Boston College 31 (Bowman 9). Assists--Notre Dame 14 (Vasturia 7), Boston College 18 (Robinson, Turner 6). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, Boston College 16. A--4,321 (8,606).

Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem, center, is surrounded on a drive to the basket against Boston College during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)