Beachem gives Irish critical boost

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It didn’t start well for V.J. Beachem against North Carolina. Then it got worse. And then it got really good for the Irish swing man, who canned two big three-pointers to upset the No. 2 Tar Heels.

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – V.J. Beachem promised. Demetrius Jackson believed.

Within the breakneck advertisement for college basketball that unfolded inside the Purcell Pavilion on Saturday night, this faith-based moment came midway through the second half after Notre Dame had wiped out a 15-point North Carolina lead.

Beachem had done virtually nothing to aid that comeback, missing his first seven shots, including his first that got unceremoniously wedged between backboard and basket. It got so bad that Mike Brey benched Beachem in the second half after just 96 seconds.

So with barely 10 minutes remaining and No. 2 North Carolina leading 53-50, this seemed like the perfect time for Beachem to guarantee he’d make his next three-pointer.

“Next pass to me and the next three-point shot I take, I’m gonna knock it down,” Jackson said Beachem told him. “That’s exactly what he did. The next time he got the ball he knocked down a huge three, gave us the lead.”

Beachem would hit another, again giving Notre Dame a second half lead that became part of its 80-76 upset that ended with a court storming. He’d add a timely block. He’d hit four free throws. There was an assist. Beachem’s 2-of-10 shooting, zero-rebound night was actually a confidence boost.

“Just decided to stick with it,” Beachem said. “I know sometimes when coach Brey takes me out it’s not because I’m not playing well, it’s just because he wants more out of me. I tried to respond. Guys tell me, keep flying around, keep trying to find my shot.”

Sometimes Jackson pleads with Beachem to play like the uniquely constructed 6-foot-8 wing that he is. Sometimes Bonzie Colson screams those same reminders. And sometimes Brey just benches him for freshman guard Rex Pflueger, who logged 20 minutes, four points and two steals.

All Notre Dame can hope is that Beachem finally got the message.

“We’ve all been on V.J.,” Colson said. “You gotta rebound, he’s a junior now, you gotta hit big shots. He’s just ready for the moment. We live in the moment.

“He’s long. He’s athletic. Sometimes he may forget.”

If Beachem can repackage his final dozen minutes against North Carolina – 10 points and two triples – Notre Dame may have new complementary piece to go with Jackson, Colson, Steve Vasturia and Zach Auguste. Beachem has gone into double-digit scoring in five straight games, the longest stretch of his career, but Notre Dame needs more than empty points.

Notre Dame needs big plays and bigger shots. Against North Carolina, Beachem delivered some of both.

That’s why his block midway through the second half might be as important as those three-pointers. There’s no reason why the broad-shouldered Beachem can’t carry more of the load.

“I give V.J. a lot of credit,” Brey said. “He got into a rhythm, he made big shots for us, made some big free throws, blocked a shot. Got more active. He’s a confident guy now. He’s been in a lot of big games.”

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