NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Must wins before the middle of January are rare.
Notre Dame’s 72-64 victory over Georgia Tech Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion was a welcome exception to the rule.
Demetrius Jackson spearheaded the Irish attack when baskets were hard to come by in the first half, and then Zach Auguste became the beneficiary of Jackson’s second-half distribution as the Irish (11-5, 2-2) claimed a much-needed ACC victory.
Notre Dame got off to a much quicker start after falling behind by 18 in the first half against Pittsburgh Saturday. After trailing for 39:45 in the loss to Pittsburgh, the Irish trailed for just 42 seconds of the first half against the Yellow Jackets (11-6, 1-3), and then led the whole way over the final 20 minutes.
With Georgia Tech’s narrow losses at No. 7 North Carolina and No. 24 Pittsburgh – plus the titanic upset of Virginia Saturday in Atlanta – Notre Dame was on red alert, especially after falling to the Panthers four days earlier without ever leading the contest.
With Duke up next, it was a must-win situation for the Irish, otherwise the potential for a 1-4 conference start.
A 7-1 run gave the Irish their largest lead of the night – 61-52 – with 4:30 remaining. Notre Dame withstood one last charge by the Yellow Jackets, who pulled within three before the Irish lead edged back to eight with 39.2 seconds left.
Jackson was the aggressor from the outset, grabbing six first-half rebounds and assisting on four of Notre Dame’s 10 baskets. He would finish with 18 points on just 2-of-11 shooting, but hit 13-of-14 from the free-throw line, snagged nine rebounds and had eight assists.
Auguste scored five baskets within the first six minutes of the second half. He converted 10-of-13 shots from the field and closed with 24 points and nine rebounds, falling just short of his 10th double-double of the season.
Matt Ryan, starting for the first time in a Notre Dame uniform, scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bonzie Colson, whom Ryan replaced in the starting lineup, came off the bench for the first time this season.
Marcus Georges-Hunt led Georgia Tech with 18 points. Adam Smith scored 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting from three-point range. Nick Jacobs was the only other Yellow Jacket in double-figure scoring with 10.
Both teams struggled mightily shooting the basketball in the first half with the Irish converting just 10-of-31 and the Yellow Jackets finding the bottom of the net on just 9-of-35 attempts. Georgia Tech missed nine shots in a row at one point.
The two teams combined for 2-of-15 shooting from three-point range in the first half with each connecting once. Notre Dame was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. The Irish allowed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half. Georgia Tech finished with 18 offensive caroms.
Notre Dame shot just 2-of-15 from three-point range.