Big game from V.J. Beachem delivers another ACC road win for No. 25 Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

RALEIGH, N.C. – Quietly confident in the way he works, Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem didn’t have to say much to teammates as he got rolling Saturday against North Carolina State.

Beachem carried a look of someone who knows the end of his career is near, knows that this has to be his time, knows that March is closing quickly, knows that he needed to deliver for the Irish to get yet another Atlantic Coast Conference road win.

So the Irish found Beachem in his sweet spots. Early. Often. When the team was rolling. When the team was really needing a bucket.

Beachem did the rest.

The swingman connected on seven 3-pointers, a program record for an ACC game, and scored a game-high 27 points as No. 25 Notre Dame rolled to its fourth straight win and second of the week on the road, 81-72 over North Carolina State.

“It’s a great feeling to get back to our winning ways,” Beachem said before stepping out into a 76-degree afternoon. “I was in a good rhythm coming out of the gates. I was able to keep it going.”

“That’s what we need,” said junior power forward Bonzie Colson. “Once he gets hot, the sky’s the limit.”

Assured of a winning league record for the third straight season, Notre Dame improved to 21-7, 10-5 in the ACC. Half those conference wins have come away from home.

“Ten league wins this year is something to be really proud of,” coach Mike Brey said. “It’s pretty powerful, winning records in this league three of the four years we’ve been in it. We’ve been really consistent doing that.”

Brey knows what it means to again get to double-digit league wins. It means there will be no guessing game as far as seeing the Notre Dame name on Selection Sunday, now only three weeks away.

Brey stayed politically correct and maybe even a little cautiously optimistic in the days leading up to Saturday. He’d say only that he wasn’t worried about any possible “bubble” talk. By Saturday afternoon, that bubble burst.

“Flat-out lock,” Brey said of his team’s NCAA Tournament plans. “To be able to say that three weeks out is really refreshing. Our fans can get ready to celebrate March Madness and Selection Sunday with us.”

The wounded Wolfpack, who fired coach Mark Gottfried barely 48 hours earlier, lost their seventh straight game and fell to 14-14, 3-12.

“We’re disappointed,” Gottfried said. “We’re not into moral victories but I saw some fight today. I liked it. I saw some fight and spirit. We got a little of that back.”

What kind of an afternoon was it for Beachem? Except for a first-half airball that he knew was short by a lot, his shot felt so good, so true, so smooth coming off his hands that he often knew it was going in from the minute the adidas basketball rotated off his long and lanky fingertips. On a second-half run that saw him score 11 straight points, Beachem set up on the left wing in an out-of-bounds under situation and gave guard Matt Farrell a look.

Farrell knows the look.

It’s THAT look.

“Once he sees I’m warm, he comes to me and says, ‘I’m finding you all night, man,’” Beachem said. “The guys were finding me. I was stepping up and shooting the way Coach tells me to.”

Three seconds remained on the shot clock, but the moment Beachem snared Farrell’s inbound offering, and then saw that Malik-Abdul Abu was way late on a switch/close out, he fired.

The ball had barely left his right hand when Beachem barked out, “(Heck), yeah!”

Swish.

“V was feeling it, man,” Brey said. “The closer it gets to March, the better he plays. We know he’s pretty darn good in March.”

That 3 gave the Irish their largest lead – 23 points – with 14:18 remaining on a day they really dominated. North Carolina State made a big run late to get within seven, but that was pure window-dressing. Notre Dame led – often by a lot – for a staggering 38:20. North Carolina State led once – on the first bucket – for 22 seconds. The game was tied for 68 seconds.

Not long after Beachem’s 3, he slithered down the lane, took another perfect pass from another Matt, this time Ryan, and scooped in a reverse layup. As he maneuvered his 6-foot-8 frame from the right side of the rim to the left, Beachem yelled out “yeah!” before the ball dropped in to put the Irish up 21.

Saturday was only the second career game for Beachem at PNC Arena, but there’s something about it that feels like home. With the lighting and the background of dark-red seats and the “lit” friendly rims, it’s one of his favorite places to play.

It showed.

The first time Beachem played at PNC two years ago, his tip in the closing seconds of regulation forced overtime of a game the Irish won. On Saturday, he was just moving and flowing and shooting and scoring.

“Everything felt good,” said Beachem, who shot 10-of-16 from the floor, 7-of-12 from 3. “I just want to stay in that rhythm.”

So solid and strong and sure of itself in second halves of late, Notre Dame flipped that script. The Irish scored 41 points, shot 59.3 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3 and took a 13-point lead – their largest of the season in league play – at intermission.

“We found a rhythm early,” Colson said. “A lot of people gave us great energy. We wanted to get off to a great start and we did that.”

That good first half allowed for a little wriggle room in the second, where it didn’t go so well. But panic? These guys? Not quite. They weathered the Wolfpack run, then made their free throws (6-of-7 over the final 55.8 seconds) when they had to make their free throws.

They then got out, got home and would get some much-needed rest.

“We played well enough to gain a good lead,” said Irish guard Steve Vasturia. “They’ve got good players. They’re going to make a run. We did a really good job when we needed to.”

NOTRE DAME (21-7): Bonzie Colson 6-10 1-1 13, V.J. Beachem 10-16 0-0 27, Rex Pflueger 1-3 0-0 2, Steve Vasturia 3-8 4-4 11, Matt Farrell 2-8 5-7 11, Austin Torres 2-2 0-0 4, Matt Ryan 2-4 0-0 6, T.J. Gibbs 3-7 0-0 7. Totals 29-58 10-12 81.

NC STATE (14-14): Abdul-Malik Abu 2-7 0-0 4, Torin Dorn 1-4 1-2 3, Terry Henderson 2-6 3-4 9, Dennis Smith Jr. 7-14 2-2 16, Maverick Rowan 6-10 2-3 15, Darius Hicks 1-2 1-2 3,Ted Kapita 1-1 0-0 2, Orner Yurtseven 4-5 0-0 8, Markell Johnson 6-9 0-0 12. Totals 30-58 9-13 72.

Halftime--Notre Dame 41-28. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 13-30 (Beachem 7-12, Ryan 2-4, Farrell 2-7, Gibbs 1-2, Vasturia 1-4, Pflueger 0-1), NC State 3-14 (Henderson 2-4, Rowan 1-4, Dorn 0-1, Johnson 0-2, Smith 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 23 (Colson 7), NC State 30 (Abu 6). Assists--Notre Dame 17 (Farrell 8), NC State 12 (Johnson 5). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 12, NC State 14.

Senior captain V.J. Beachem and Notre Dame have found their groove after a four-game losing streak put a big question mark on their season. The Irish have since won four in a row and are 21-7 overall, 10-5 in the ACC. (AP Photo/KARL B DENLAKER)