Zero points, a trio of errant shots from beyond the arc, a missed layup on a pretty pass from Jerian Grant, and a well-placed bounce pass from classmate Demetrius Jackson that glanced off his leg out of bounds. Offensively, it was a rough first half for Steve Vasturia. True to form, the sophomore swingman didn't let it phase him. Rather than remain irrelevant, Vasturia decided to go to the hole early in the second stanza, and the Irish reaped the benefits of that aggressive approach:
• A driving bucket for two free throws
• A blow-by around massive Georgia Tech forward (6'8" 270-pound) Robert Mitchell
• A contested fast break layup
• Another strong finish at the rim on a feed from Pat Connaughton -- and most important, his body on the floor and at the boards.
"I just didn't want to settle. I wasn't knocking down shots in the first half but I wanted to contribute in other ways -- get on the glass, dive on the floor, and that opened up some driving lanes on for me," said Vasturia, who, as always, defended the opponent's top scoring swingman.
"The other thing Steve did, he made it really hard for (Marcus) Georges-Hunt to really get going," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "He had a nice game (20 points, but 7 of 19 from the floor), but Steve really defended him, because he's a driving, slashing guy, and Steve forced him into some really difficult shots."
Notre Dame has one of the nation's best backcourts in Grant and Jackson. It has a rock-solid role player in Pat Connaughton. When Vasturia contributes 17 points (all in the second half), six boards, three assists, a steal, quality defense and endless hustle as he did Saturday, the Irish are a tough out in the ACC.
Asked post-game what the biggest difference between the Notre Dame team he faced twice last winter and the squad that fought back against his Yellow Jackets for victory Saturday. Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory first considered the obvious (the return of Grant), but settled on the rebirth of the All-American candidate's backcourt running mate instead.
"Every player in America should look at Demetrius Jackson because there are 400,000 guys transferring because their freshman years don’t go the way they want ‘em to," said Gregory. "He just kept working. You know what I mean? His freshman year didn’t go the way he wanted it to, and now he’s one of the best guards in the league.
"Guys don’t have that patience because what’s the first thing they’re going to do? They’re going to point a finger instead of pointing their thumbs. I don’t -- but (s---), that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m proud of that kid and I don’t even know him. But I watched film, and unfortunately I watched the Michigan State game and I’m like, ‘Wait, that kid couldn’t even play last year.’ I was happy when he came in the game. Now I’m happy when he leaves."
Gregory's praise followed what was a sub par offensive game for Jackson (11 points, three assists, albeit with five boards and three steals), but it came -- as always -- after the Irish point guard harried, harassed, and hounded the opposing point guards into mistakes and few possessions of impact. Combined, Travis Jorgensen and backup Josh Heath hit for six points on 2 of 10 shooting with four turnovers in 50 minutes.
For a program that has long suffered to defend perimeter quickness, the indomitable Jackson has been a God-send with his relentless, on-the-ball defense.
46 boards against, a whopping 19 from their offensive glass. That was Notre Dame's rebounding plight Saturday afternoon in South Bend, 15 in the hole on the official stat sheet.The Yellow Jackets brought a pair of six-foot-eight, 270-pounders to the party, and it was obvious the Irish had no one capable of keeping the aforementioned Mitchell and Demarco Cox off the glass.
"It looked like some of them spent the morning in the weight room," joked Jackson post-game.
Notre Dame's current and impending disadvantage on the boards is no laughing matter. At 14-1 and poised for a Top 12 ranking heading into Monday's matchup at North Carolina, Brey's bunch will have to mitigate the damage against a long, athletic Tar Heels crew -- and for the better part of three months thereafter.
"One of the things we've looked at is, `Do we have to play bigger sometimes?'" said Brey of his four-around-one approach. "But, I don't want to give up on the ship yet. I think we can get our guards down there to help us. We did it against Florida State's size better than we did against Georgia Tech and Michigan State. But certainly, it's a challenge."
Connaughton leads the Irish in rebounding (8.2 per game) and ranks second in ACC play in terms of cleaning the defensive glass (7.1 per). But at six-foot-five, those caroms will have to collected in congress with a solid 10 to 12 from Notre Dame's trio of big men, Zach Auguste, Austin Torres, and Martin Geben. Every game hereafter. If not, Notre Dame's surp
rising third tier status in the 2015 college basketball world (there's Kentucky alone at the top, then the likes of Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and Wisconsin, followed by a collection of 10-20 on the cusp among which the Irish can certainly compete) will be rendered irrelevant. No rebounds, no matter.