DEFENSE DWINDLES DOWN STRETCH
As with any epic come-from-ahead loss, it starts on the defensive end of the court, and Notre Dame’s shoddy performance over the final 15 minutes of game led to a catastrophic 80-73 loss Saturday to Indiana at the fifth-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Leading 56-40 following Zach Auguste’s layup with 15:13 remaining, the Irish allowed another tidal wave-like 40 points the rest of the way while the offense managed just 17 additional points.
Notre Dame looked like a weary basketball team, which it probably was with the starters logging virtually all of the minutes coming off final exams.
“Second shots by them…they were great on the boards,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “They made big-time offensive rebounding put-backs that got them confident.”
The most egregious example of the Hoosiers (9-3) overwhelming the Irish down the stretch came with the Irish still leading by eight (71-63) as the clocked ticked under six minutes.
Three straight times, Indiana missed shots around the bucket, only to grab the offensive rebound, which ultimately led to a Troy Williams jam. One or two stops and/or one or two efficient offensive possessions could have stemmed the tide, but Notre Dame’s gas tank was empty.
The Irish limited the Hoosiers to just 12-of-34 shooting in the first half. (.353), but 15-of-29 in the second half (.517) while Notre Dame was scoreless over the final 2:58. The Irish managed just 10 points over the final 10:18.
Ultimately, the difference on the score sheet showed up behind the three-point line and the bench scoring. Indiana connected on 10-of-20 from three-point range while Notre Dame was just 5-of-18.
With five players logging 60 minutes and scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, the Hoosier troops off the bench overwhelmed Notre Dame, which had three players combine for 28 minutes, three points (a Matt Ryan three-pointer) and zero rebounds.
Indiana scored 19 of the final 23 points, looking like a fresh team with tons of energy compared to the Irish, who limped across the finish line.
Bonzie Colson (11-of-16, career-high 24 points and eight rebounds) and V.J. Beachem (4-of-6 three-pointers, 18 points) were the driving forces behind building a 16-point lead over the Hoosiers.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s backcourt failed miserably with Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia combining for 7-of-26 shooting, including a combined 0-of-8 from three-point range.
Jackson was 4-of-17, although he did grab five offensive rebounds (seven total) with six assists.
“I think D.J. wanted it so bad playing down here (as) an in-state kid,” Brey said. “He probably played too hard at times. That’s why he didn’t shoot it as well.”
To be fair, Jackson has carried the Irish through the non-conference segment of the schedule. By scoring just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-5 from three-point range, junior Steve Vasturia failed to reach double figures for the first time this season.
Vasturia came into the game shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range. But when the understated Vasturia has an off game, it looks – because of his measured style – sluggish and uninspired.
“Steve has played those extended minutes and made big shots before,” said Brey of Vasturia, who logged 37 minutes, second only to Jackson’s 39.
“It’s hard guarding (Indiana) in man because they come at you so hard, barreling downhill. That probably wears on you more than playing against a different kind of offense.”
Whatever the reasons, Indiana’s backcourt overwhelmed the Irish through 40 minutes. Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon didn’t shoot it particularly well, unless they were behind the three-point line. Together, they missed all nine of their two-point attempts, but made 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Robert Johnson added 17 points on 6-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from distance.
COLSON-BEACHEM SURGE CONTINUES
The Irish have home layups against Youngstown State (Dec. 21) and Liberty (Dec. 29) to patch up some of the wounds inflicted by this difficult loss before jumping into conference play on Jan. 2 at Virginia.
A real positive to take out of it, however, was the continued strong play of sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson and junior sharpshooter V.J. Beachem, who combined for 42 points on 18-of-26 shooting.
Colson was the most dominant player on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor most of the afternoon, scoring 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting with six rebounds in the first half alone. He finished with a career-high 24 points – seven more than his previous high – on 11-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds.
At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Colson is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. He’s had at least seven rebounds in seven of 10 games. His 24 points against the Hoosiers exceeded his season high for the year by a dozen.
Beachem has been on fire from the three-point line. He is now 30-of-66 for the season – a sizzling 45.4 percent – while providing the Irish with a consistent distribution of success over 10 games.
Beachem has had at least four three-pointers five times with a 3-of-6 effort against Illinois. He’s made at least two three-pointers in nine of 10 games.