Tough end to terrific career for Notre Dame senior V.J. Beachem

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Hands tugging his gold game shorts at his knees, Notre Dame senior captain V.J. Beachem stared at the floor and took a look one last time at the game clock to his left as the KeyBank Center horn sounded.

He immediately dropped his head when he heard it. He knew what that sound signified.

It meant that the curtain was about to close on his collegiate career.

With 29 seconds remaining in Saturday’s second-round West Regional game against West Virginia, one Notre Dame lost 83-71, coach Mike Brey decided it was over for his two seniors.

Out came guard Steve Vasturia. Out came Beachem, who hugged sophomore Rex Pflueger before an embrace for Brey.

“He just said he loves me; he believes in me, excited for whatever’s to come next for me,” Beachem said. “A great season and a great career.”

Beachem responded with something that staggered his coach.

“He goes, ‘Coach, I really let you down today,’” Brey said. “I said, ‘Now don’t you dare. We aren’t in any of these positions without you.’ He took it really hard.

“We don’t do a lot of things in March without what that guy’s done big picture.”

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not just this soon, but also this way.

So good in March last season when he averaged 17.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in four tournament games, Beachem never could get on track this time around. His last time around.

Beachem shot 2-of-14 from the floor, 1-of-9 from 3, for nine points Saturday. He shot a combined 3-for-23 from the field, 1-of-12 from 3 with eight rebounds in two NCAA Tournament games.

This one’s going to take some time to get past.

“It’s something I’ll probably never forget in my life,” he said. “Just the way I played these last two games in the NCAA Tournament. It’s something to grow from as a man, as a player and go from there.”

Beachem couldn’t say why he struggled. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he put too much pressure on himself. Maybe it was hitting a shooting slump at the worst possible time.

Maybe…

“I just wasn’t able to knock them down today,” he said. “It’s been a great ride.”

While Beachem struggled, sophomore Matt Ryan remained on the bench. Ryan played 11 minutes and finished with eight points, including two-of-three from 3. While Brey believes Ryan’s day is coming, he stayed with Beachem as the missed shots and frustration piled up.

“He’s our guy,” Brey said. “I just felt you gotta ride him. Our seniors, you know me, they get every opportunity to play their way out of it.”

Beachem and Vasturia finish their careers with 97 wins, tied for most all-time. Afterward, Brey broke from his standard of allowing his seniors to stay back in the locker room after the season-ending loss. The seniors accompanied the coach to the post-game dais.

“Those guys were unbelievable,” Brey said. “The careers they had, winning in this tournament, winning overall. I’ll miss those guys.

“We’re turning them loose into the world as men.”

Keep competing

Doing everything offensively for the Irish, when he finished with a game-high 27 points and team-high eight rebounds, Irish power forward Bonzie Colson found himself in serious danger of fouling out Saturday for the first time in his career.

Colson picked up his third foul with 18:36 remaining, then was tagged with his fourth with 9:47 left. But Brey never made the move to bring him out and protect him for a few minutes.

“That’s the Coaching 101 textbook that doesn’t mean a (darn) thing,” Brey said. “If I take him out, we lose by 20, you know? He’s smart enough. He’s got to play.

“If you play around and, ‘Well, we’ll save him for … get out of here. He’s got to play. We’re hanging for dear life.”

Colson never did foul out. He played 37 minutes. Colson made 10 shots from the field; the rest of the Irish combined to make 12.

Good guards

Brey talked often this year about putting his all-New Jersey backcourt of Matt Farrell and Vasturia up against anybody.

On Saturday, West Virginia’s were better.

Farrell and Vasturia combined for 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds with five turnovers, while the backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. combined for 42 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.

“Carter is such a big-time winner,” Brey said. “The shots he made today were back-breaking. He was the assassin today.”

Carter, who tied his season high with 24 points, clearly was the best guard on the floor.

“All year we’ve been telling ourselves that we've got the best group of guards in the country,” Carter said. “So when it’s time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all. We are going to live and die with it.”

On Saturday, they lived large.

Buffalo bits

• Saturday was consecutive start No. 117 for Vasturia, which ranks third all-time behind Chris Thomas (128) and Pat Connaughton (120).

• Vasturia finished his collegiate career with 1,400 points. He played 4,402 minutes. His 137 career games ranks second in school history behind Connaughton (139).

• The best free-throw shooting team in the country coming into the tournament at 79.9 percent, Notre Dame finished 17-for-17. It was the third time this season that the Irish didn’t miss from the line.

• Notre Dame is 39-39 in 36 NCAA Tournament appearances.

• The Irish finished 4-9 against ranked teams.

• The 14 turnovers were the most for Notre Dame since a season-high 18 against Florida State on Jan. 18.

• Brey and Colson both reiterated what the Tribune reported last month – that Colson is a four-year player and will return for his senior season. He may explore the NBA draft process like Beachem did last year, but is expected to return.

• West Virginia improved to 4-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo.

• The Mountaineers entered Saturday’s game shooting 68.8 percent from the free throw line. They then went 21-of-26 (80.8 percent), 14-of-19 in the second half.

• The Notre Dame traveling party returned to South Bend via charter flight early Saturday evening.

• Beachem and Vasturia both will play in the NBA’s pre-draft Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament in April. Beachem also will play in the annual NABC all-star game during Final Four weekend.

• Saturday was the first time since 2013 that Notre Dame did not make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. That year, it lost a first-round game to Iowa State in Dayton, Ohio.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI