WINNING ON DEFENSIVE END
There are years in which the Irish are better on the defensive end of the floor than others, but the Mike Brey program will never be known for its lockdown nature on the side of the floor opposite his favorite end.
Speaking in absolutes and certainties when it comes to Notre Dame’s defense is foolhardy. It likely will change by the next game. Good defensive performances often are a byproduct of bad opposing offenses.
One game, they’re allowing Virginia to convert 63.1 percent of its two-point shots. The next game they’re holding Boston College to just 17 goals on 51 attempts (33.3). Back home two days later, Pittsburgh made 10 of its first 12 shots and converted 17 first-half field goals and 56.7 percent of its attempts.
Wednesday night in Notre Dame’s 72-64 victory over Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets needed 72 attempts to make 24 shots – 33.3 percent – and were a mere 5-of-19 from three-point range after coming into the contest converting at a 38.5 rate.
Georgia Tech had been averaging nearly 77 points per game with a couple of 100-point outbursts in November, an 83-point effort against Arkansas, and 78 and 84 points at North Carolina and Pittsburgh respectively.
“I was very pleased with how we defended tonight,” said Brey, whose squad held an opponent under 40 percent shooting for sixth time this season.
“They’re one of the teams (in the ACC) that really throws it into the post. We had a good chest from our bigs guarding their bigs, and our guards came down and really dug it out.”
Georgia Tech’s 5-of-19 three-point shooting (26.3 percent) marked the fifth time an Irish opponent has shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc. The Yellow Jackets’ only weapon from three-point range was sharpshooting Adam Smith, who made four of Georgia Tech’s five three-pointers, but had to launch 11 of its 19 attempts.
“Steve Vasturia might be the most disciplined guy in the league,” said Brey of Vasturia’s defensive assignment on Smith. “I thought Steve chasing him around gave us great stuff and never let (Smith) get going.”
Smith was just 1-of-5 from three-point range in the first half. He came into the game with 56 three-pointers – more than three times anyone else on the roster. He converted 3-of-6 three-pointers in the second half, two of which came in the final three-and-a-half minutes when the Yellow Jackets were in desperation chase mode.
CASHING IN AT CHARITY STRIPE
On a night when Notre Dame shot just 38.9 percent from the field and was particularly anemic from three-point range, missing 13 of 15 attempts, the Irish picked a good night to compensate at the free-throw line in their 72-64 victory over Georgia Tech.
Notre Dame converted 9-of-10 free throws in the first half and 19-of-22 in the second half to finish 28-of-32. The Irish made just 21-of-54 field-goal attempts with Zach Auguste accounting for nearly half (10) of the baskets. No other player had more than three field goals.
“I’m pleased with how we shot free throws tonight,” Brey said. “I always thought that would be a weapon for us.”
Notre Dame came into the game shooting just 68 percent from the free-throw line, which is a significant drop from last year’s 74.2 mark. Steve Vasturia had been the only starter shooting above 70 percent from the line.
The most surprising underperformer had been Demetrius Jackson, who came into the Georgia Tech game converting just 69.8 percent of his attempts. But Wednesday night, he was true on 13-of-14 attempts to compensate for a 2-of-11 effort from the field.
The performance raised Jackson’s free-throw shooting percentage to 74.6.
V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson both converted all four of their free-throw attempts. Auguste was 4-of-6 and first-time starter Matt Ryan was 3-of-4.
RYAN’S FIRST START PROPELS AUGUSTE
In an attempt to shake things up a bit and provide a shooting spark from the outset as opposed to off the bench, Brey put freshman Matt Ryan in the starting lineup and brought bruising Bonzie Colson in as his sixth man.
Although no definitive conclusion can be reached in a one-game sample, Ryan hit his only three-pointer of the night 3:18 into the game and the Irish trailed for just 42 seconds of the first half.
Ryan finished with 10 points and seven defensive rebounds. Colson logged just 17 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds.
Ryan’s 35 minutes of action and Jackson’s near triple-double (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) were two of the byproducts of a different mix.
“We’ve played that way, but we haven’t started that way,” said Brey of the lineup adjustment. “That looked a little more like we played last year.
“It helped us to get off to a better offensive start. It helped free up Zach Auguste for a lot of rim rolls, and that’s why he was so effective, because he had a fourth shooter on the court.”
After managing just 28 points and 18 rebounds in the previous three games, and on a night when the rest of the team made just 11-of-41 field-goal attempts, Auguste converted 10-of-13, finishing with 24 points and one rebound shy of his 10th double-double of the season.
Auguste scored five field goals within the first 6:03 of the second half as Jackson repeatedly found him rolling to the basket. All of Auguste’s buckets were from point-blank range, including three dunks.
The four-around-one look with Ryan helped Auguste reach the 20-point mark for the first time since the Stony Brook game on Dec. 8.
“Just keep things simple,” said Auguste of his regular mantra. “Just trust Demetrius. We had four guards out. We just ran pick-and-roll and they couldn’t stop us.”