It’s a rare occurrence when V.J. Beachem’s buttery-smooth jump shot isn’t falling. And man, it was not falling on Jan. 22 at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum.
One, two, five, seven, 10 shots hoisted up by the 6-foot-8 sophomore with nary a scratch in the scoring column to show for it, including misses on all seven of his three-point attempts.
After all, it was that smooth right-handed J that earned the Fort Wayne, Ind., product a spot in Notre Dame’s seven-to-eight-man rotation after missing five games with plantar fasciitis in December.
Upon his return to the lineup, Beachem picked up where he left off after connecting on 15-of-27 three-pointers through the first seven games, including 5-of-6 against Coppin State en route to a career-high 19 points.
Once back from injury, he hit 12-of-22 three-pointers in a four-game stretch against ACC foes North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami.
Then came Virginia Tech.
“I would definitely say yes, especially after going 0-for-10,” laughed Beachem when asked if he’s made a concerted effort to round out his game.
“All the guys were like, ‘V.J., you’re more than a shooter! Show them your overall game!’”
Indeed, there is more to Beachem than just that heaven-sent jump shot, which has allowed him to average 8.1 points per game while converting 50 percent (31-of-62) of his three-point shots attempted against everyone other than Virginia Tech. Beachem is a long 6-foot-8, which gives him an opportunity to alter passing lanes as well as help the Irish on the glass.
Beachem added to his game in Sunday’s come-from-behind victory at North Carolina State. His tip-in of a Pat Connaughton miss with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime and allowed the Irish to come away with an 81-78 victory.
“I wasn’t hitting all my open shots (against N.C. State) either, so I tried to do more to help the team,” Beachem said.
According to Irish head coach Mike Brey, Beachem’s transition began in the summer and during the August trip to Italy as the growth of a much-improved basketball team began to take root.
“We really challenged him a lot in the summer and early fall to be a more reliable defender,” Brey said. “He can’t get sliced off the dribble, and with his length, he can get on the backboards some.
“I thought it was a big step forward for him to have a tough night like he did in Blacksburg, and then to come back and just be ready to roll and make big plays. He needed to be more than just a shooter. He’s an improved defender. His stance is better, and he’s starting to get to the backboards some, which will help us.”
As a freshman in 2013-14, Beachem rarely ventured near the glass. In 27 games and 229 minutes, he had 19 rebounds. He’s had 14 rebounds in the last five games alone, including a career-high four against Virginia and North Carolina State.
Tom Hawkins, Notre Dame’s all-time leading rebounder, is in no danger of losing his standing to Beachem. But a more well-rounded game has helped increase Beachem’s playing time to at least 20 minutes – including 31 against Miami – in each of the last five games.
Against the Wolfpack Sunday, Beachem even put the ball on the floor and drove to hoop for a bucket to go along with the game-tying tip-in. The basket with less than two seconds remaining became the individual highlight of his young collegiate career.
“That’s definitely No. 1 so far,” Beachem said. “I hit a three last year against Pitt, but we weren’t as good as we are now. So to win a big road game -- to come back and win in overtime -- was definitely big.”
Calling PNC Arena the craziest environment in which he’s played, the atmosphere changed dramatically after Beachem’s tip-in.
“I saw some pictures of how (the Wolfpack players) looked right after it happened,” Beachem said. “I think it really took some of their spirit and definitely took the crowd out of it.”
Now the Irish go from the frying pan into the fire Wednesday night when they host No. 4 Duke (17-2, 4-2) in the first clash of top 10 teams at Purcell Pavilion since Nov. 26, 2008 when No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 1 North Carolina squared off.
“We’re coming into this one with a lot of momentum, so to pull this one out would be even bigger than last year,” said Beachem, referencing Notre Dame’s 79-77 victory over the Blue Devils last January.
Beachem played just eight minutes and scored two points in that game. Look for his role to expand tonight as the Irish reach for their 20th victory and eighth out of nine in conference play.
“They’re a team ranked higher than us,” said Beachem, “but we know we can play with anybody.”
So, too, can Beachem.