The Irish decided not to use any of those reasons as an excuse.
Minus their second leading scorer and rebounder Zach Auguste – who was back in South Bend tending to an academic issue – the Irish (16-2, 4-1) refused to give in to Georgia Tech’s powerful inside game, overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit to yank a 62-59 victory away from the Yellow Jackets (9-7, 0-4).
Five Irish players scored in double figures, including sophomore V.J. Beachem (10 points) and seldom-used freshman Bonzie Colson (10) as Notre Dame out-scored the Yellow Jackets in the second half, 32-21.
After allowing Georgia Tech to convert 15-of-27 first-half shots, the Irish limited the Yellow Jackets to just 6-of-24 shooting in the second half .
The victory keeps the Irish solidly at the top portion of the ACC, one game down in the loss column to undefeated Virginia and Syracuse.
The Irish couldn’t keep the Yellow Jackets off the backboards on Jan. 3 even with Auguste, losing the battle of the backboards, 46-31. It was more of the same in the first half Wednesday night as Notre Dame used Martin Geben, Austin Torres and Colson to stem the avalanche that is 270-pound Charles Mitchell and 276-pound Demarco Cox.
Geben was ineffective, so Irish head coach Mike Brey turned to Torres and particularly Colson, who not only battled Georgia Tech’s big men on the defensive end, but gave the Irish the interior offense needed to offset the disparity.
Down 38-30 at halftime, the Irish went on a 7-0 run to cut it to one, and then took the lead at 14:58 on a Pat Connaughton (10 points, seven rebounds) three-pointer. After an exchange of leads, the Irish stayed in front from the 13:37 mark to the 4:48 mark when the Yellow Jackets inched ahead on a three-point play by Cox.
But the Irish held Georgia Tech to just three points the rest of the way. Steve Vasturia’s driving basket with 4:16 remaining gave the Irish a 57-56 lead, an advantage they would not relinquish despite another shaky night from leading scorer Jerian Grant, whose turnover and offensive charge gave the Yellow Jackets repeated chances down the stretch.
Grant finished with five of Notre Dame’s nine turnovers. He has now missed all 10 of his three-point attempts in the last four games. He also continued to struggle at the line, missing 3-of-5.
And yet it was Grant’s jumper with 19.6 seconds remaining that gave the Irish a three-point lead. Marcus Georges-Hunt missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15.4 seconds remaining, and Grant’s baseball pass to Vasturia, who converted the three-point play, sealed it for the Irish.
Grant finished with a team-high 12 points. Demetrius Jackson scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists with just one turnover.
Cox paced Georgia Tech with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Chris Bolden came off the bench to score 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-3 from three-point range in the first half.
Notre Dame converted 15-of-19 free throws after missing 10 of their previous 16 attempts against North Carolina and Virginia.