Notre Dame’s 69-58 victory at Wake Forest late Wednesday evening won’t go down as one of its more aesthetic performances of the season, which makes it two less-than-pretty performances in a row with Saturday’s 63-62 loss at Georgia Tech.
The road split comes on the heels of three straight stellar performances – all victories – against North Carolina, at Clemson and Louisville.
The Irish will gladly take the 11-point win over the Demon Deacons and enjoy a leisurely trip to Tallahassee, Fla., where they’ll head directly Thursday morning as opposed to returning to a snowbound Notre Dame campus.
These are the dog days of conference play. Sometimes a grind-it-out victory is good enough, and in this instance, it was enough to raise Notre Dame’s record to 10-5 in the ACC. The Irish are tied with Virginia in fourth place with North Carolina (12-3), Miami (11-4) and Louisville (11-4) at the top.
By the midway point of the first half against Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons already had nine offensive rebounds. They added another nine over the final 30 minutes to finish with twice as many as Notre Dame.
Notre Dame had difficulty taking advantage of a poor shooting night by the Demon Deacons, leading by just two at the second TV timeout despite Wake Forest’s 4-of-19 shooting from the field, including a 0-of-8 start from three-point range.
Wake Forest, not exactly known for its defensive prowess after allowing 101 points to Pittsburgh, 99 to North Carolina State and 91 to Florida State, made it difficult for the Irish to find an offensive flow.
Notre Dame ran its offense from 25-to-30 feet most of the night until Demetrius Jackson took things into his own hands in the second half when he scored all 15 of his points. Zach Auguste made all eight of his free throws over the final 19 minutes of the game to keep the Demon Deacons at bay.
A big reason Wake Forest hung around was because of Notre Dame’s uncharacteristically poor three-point shooting. While the Demon Deacons were a woeful 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc, the Irish were just 4-of-18 (22.2 percent), which is the third worst mark of the season behind a 2-of-15 (13.3) at home against Georgia Tech in mid-January and a 3-of-16 (18.8) at home against North Carolina two weeks ago.
The Demon Deacons were feeling good about themselves with the recent performance of 7-foot-1 freshman Doral Moore, who led them to a victory over Boston College that snapped an 11-game losing streak.
Moore had 13 points and eight rebounds in just 20 minutes against Notre Dame while another freshman, 6-foot-10 John Collins, also had his way inside with 16 points.
It says something about the chemistry and cohesion of a basketball team to scrap out a win on the road against a rejuvenated albeit poor team that had designs on an upset of the No. 23 team in the country.
• Demetrius Jackson – It was another rough start on the road shooting the basketball for the junior point guard, who missed all four of his field-goal attempts and both three-pointers in the first half as the Irish led by three at the intermission.
Jackson made 5-of-9 shots from the field in the second half, including his first basket of the night at the 18:04 mark that propelled him to 15 second-half points.
Jackson was proactive throughout the second half, spearheading fast breaks and even forcing a few jumpers to take on the responsibility of pulling out a victory on the road. Jackson wasn’t going to allow Notre Dame to lose.
• Zach Auguste – The 6-foot-10 senior can be a frustrating player to watch, particularly on the defensive end where defending the post is a maybe-I-will-maybe-I-won’t proposition and boxing out is a foreign concept. He isn’t always the most adroit around the bucket offensively, either.
But the guy finds a way to come up big with the game on the line, too, as evidenced by his 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Demon Deacons. Auguste’s 8-of-8 from the free-throw line – all of which came in the second half – including a one-and-one with 2:01 remaining to expand Notre Dame’s lead to six, and then a pair of free throws with 57.7 seconds left to raise the advantage to eight, were critical in sealing the victory.
• Steve Vasturia – The 6-foot-6 sophomore was needed on the backboards as Wake Forest was snagging nine offensive rebounds within the first 10 minutes of the game. That’s a hit-and-miss proposition with Vasturia.
His bread-and-butter, in addition to his quality on-the-ball and team defense, is his scoring prowess inside and out. Vasturia scored eight points in each half, converting 6-of-11 shots from the field and 2-of-4 from three-point range. He’s as potent around the basket as he is from distance.
Why Vasturia doesn’t fight for and attempt more three-point shots on the road is a source of frustration. In eight ACC road games this season, he is now 16-of-29 (55.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
On one hand, he’s making sure he takes quality shots. On the other hand, the Irish could use him to force a couple more along the way, particularly with Jackson and V.J. Beachem a combined 0-of-8 from three-point range Wednesday night.
• Matt Ryan – The freshman sharpshooter came off the bench and provided a real spark when points were at a premium in the first half, nailing back-to-back three-pointers within a 48-second span midway through the first half that helped build a 10-point lead.
Ryan almost fouled out in 14 minutes of action – not a bad thing when you’re a off-the-bench player trying to set a physical tone – and grabbed three critical defensive rebounds.
SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Notre Dame has “lit up” the four Tobacco Road schools in the ACC.
With the victory over the Demon Deacons, the Irish have now won an incredible 10 out of 11 games against North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, including one at each of the Tobacco Road teams’ home venues. The Irish defeated North Carolina in Chapel Hill in January of 2015, Duke in Durham this past January, North Carolina State in Raleigh in late January of 2015, and now Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.
The Irish also have defeated Wake Forest twice at Purcell Pavilion as well as Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. last March.
The only loss during that 11-game span versus Tobacco Road schools was a decisive one – 90-60 at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium last February.
The win over Wake Forest also marked the 13th in a row by the Irish following a loss, including six on the opposition’s home court.
• Lost to Providence (Uncasville, Conn.) by 1; defeated Grambling State at home by 27.
• Lost at home to Virginia by 4; won at Georgia Tech by 3.
• Lost at Pittsburgh by 4; defeated Boston College at home by 8.
• Lost at Duke by 30; won at Clemson by 2.
• Lost at home to Syracuse by 5; won at Louisville by 12.
• Lost to Monmouth in Orlando by 2; defeated Iowa in Orlando by 6.
• Lost to Alabama in Orlando by 1; won at Illinois by 5.
• Lost to Indiana in Indianapolis by 7; defeated Youngstown State at home by 9.
• Lost at Virginia by 11; won at Boston College by 27.
• Lost at home to Pittsburgh by 4; defeated Georgia Tech at home by 8.
• Lost at Syracuse by 15; defeated Wake Forest at home by 23.
• Lost at Miami by 9; defeated North Carolina at home by 4.
• Lost at Georgia Tech by 1; won at Wake Forest by 11.