Notre Dame, Ind. – After 15 minutes of perfection, the final 25 were a lot to live up to.
No. 10 Notre Dame (21-3, 9-2) took a 25-point lead at the 5:08 mark of the first half, eventually seeing that monstrous advantage melt away to six points in the final two minutes of the game before securing a 71-63 victory over Boston College (9-12, 1-8).
“That’s tricky because they may think this is going to be one that’s a 25-, 30-point game,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey of his team’s mindset after taking a 34-9 lead.
Sophomore Steve Vasturia and fifth-year senior Jerian Grant each tossed in 17 points to lead the Irish with Vasturia connecting on 7-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point range. Grant connected on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Vasturia’s three-pointer with 1:57 remaining gave the Irish a nine-point lead, which was enough to keep Boston College at arm’s length.
“We were in a heckuva rhythm,” Brey said. “It was beautiful basketball. When you’re in that good of a rhythm offensively, it helps you defensively because it demoralizes the other team.”
But after out-scoring the Eagles 41-25 in the first half, the visitors out-tallied the Irish in the second half, 38-30, to make things interesting. Leading the charge for Boston College was sharpshooting Olivier Hanlan, who scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting from three-point range.
“They knocked down some shots they didn’t hit in the first half, and they went on a little run,” said Vasturia, whose 17 points represented an individual high in ACC play this season.
“Obviously, we started off really well offensively and defensively,” Grant said. “Down the stretch, one of their players got hot. We expect close games. It was good that we got a lead early. We got a little bit out of our rhythm and forced some shots instead of moving the ball the way we usually do.”
Captain Pat Connaughton got off to a sizzling start, scoring 10 points within the first 6:05, and then tallying just one point the rest of the game. Demetrius Jackson, who had scored in double figures in 13 of the previous 14 games, was scoreless until converting a free throw with 2:31 left in the game. He finished with three points, but grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
“It was a workout chasing Hanlan around, and I thought (Jackson) did a good job,” Brey said. “He’s really taken a lot of pride in wanting to know throughout the game how many rebounds he has. That’s a weapon we need.
“It’s clear that we’re not the best defensive rebounding team, but we have a guard that can go get the ball. Tonight was a great example of, 'I’ve got to guard Hanlan, help us rebound, I’m not scoring, but my team’s winning. I’m okay.’”
Boston College, which came into the game shooting just 32.2 percent from three-point range, connected on 10-of-26 (38.5 percent). The Eagles also limited the Irish to 9-of-21 shooting in the second half to offset Notre Dame’s 16-of-29 effort (55.2 percent) in the first half.
Coming off a disappointing defensive effort in Saturday’s 76-72 loss at Pittsburgh, Brey was happier with the fast start than he was disappointed with the sputtering finish.
“I’m thrilled with how we bounced back,” Brey said. “The first 10 minutes, what we were doing offensively was off the charts, and we combined it with really solid defense to give us a big cushion that we eventually needed.
“I felt we got great shots in the second half, we just didn’t make them, and they got going a little bit. Hanlan is really talented. I’m glad there wasn’t more time on the clock as he got in a rhythm.”
Zach Auguste provided the Irish with solid inside play, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Led by Vasturia and Grant, the Irish finished 10-of-21 from three-point range. Other than Hanlan, Aaron Brown was the only other Eagle in double figures with 13 points.
The Irish get a second look at Duke Saturday, this time at Cameron Indoor Arena.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Auguste said. “We’ve just got to continue to do what we did last time. We’re very confident. That’s a key part of what makes us successful.”