Notre Dame refused to lose to a team that had lost nine straight games. But it took every last ounce of energy Tuesday night at Boston College’s Conte Forum to avoid a major upset.
Trailing by 10 points five minutes into the second half – after falling behind by 13 in the first half – Notre Dame (20-7, 9-5) out-scored the Eagles 36-18 the rest of the way to claim an 84-76 victory.
The Irish shot their way back into the game on the offensive end and used an effective zone defense against Boston College (9-18, 2-12) and its sharp-shooting freshman, Ky Bowman, to notch their third straight victory and to keep their pursuit of a double-bye in the ACC tournament intact.
“It was one of those nights where your leadership is either going to rally the troops and we’re going to guard in the second half, or we’re going to get beat,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“We’ve got really good seniors and upperclassmen, and they talked about what they needed to do on the defensive end.”
The defensive end yielded 49 points in the first half as Boston College took the lead out of the gate and shredded Notre Dame’s man-to-man defense.
Bowman, who finished with 29 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, including 5-of-11 from three-point range and 8-of-8 shooting from the line, nailed a three-pointer 12 seconds into the game to spearhead the Eagles’ 58.6 percent shooting in the first half.
Thirteen of Boston College’s 17 first-half baskets came off assists as the effective Eagle back-screens left Notre Dame’s defense in a shambles.
Boston College also got a lift from infrequent scoring big man Mo Jeffers, who came into the game averaging just 5.5 points and scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and seven rebounds.
Boston College raced past Notre Dame to take a 10-point halftime lead.
The typically calm Brey expressed his displeasure to the Irish at the break.
“I walked right through the locker room to the coaches’ locker room and said, ‘You all are going to have to figure this out. They got 50 points on us,’” Brey said.
The Irish leadership did the rest at halftime.
“You’ve got a combination of Colson and Vasturia, Beachem and Farrell,” Brey said. “Those four guys say a lot.
“Matt Farrell says it with great fire, though. He can get up and get demonstrative and emotional, like he did last week against Wake Forest when we needed the win bad. He’s been the guy to kind of challenge dudes, and they certainly respond.”
The loudest response came from Farrell himself, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson, who was returning home to his Boston stomping grounds.
Trailing 58-48 with 15:35 remaining, the Irish went on a 15-1 run. Beachem hit a three-pointer and a leaner, Farrell hit back-to-back bombs, and Colson slammed home Farrell’s heat-check miss to give the Irish a 61-59 lead, which they would not relinquish over the final 12:44.
Notre Dame’s zone defense played a significant role in limiting the Eagles to just 27 points.
“Going zone helped us,” Brey said. “We went big and we played some zone, and that kind of changed their rhythm in their man offense, which was hard for us to guard.”
Austin Torres logged 13 minutes to assist on the defensive end.
Farrell scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half while Colson tallied 12 of his 20 after the break. Colson shot 9-of-12 for the game, but fell short of a double-double with six rebounds.
Beachem finished with 16 points on 4-of-10 from three-point range while grabbing a team-leading eight rebounds. Farrell nailed 5-of-11 three-pointers.
The Irish helped seal the game in fitting fashion. The No. 1 free-throw shooting team in the country converted 19-of-21 free throws, including all six by Vasturia, who was the fourth Irish player in double figures with 15 points.
Jerome Robinson, averaging 19.4 points per game, scored 11 points for the Eagles on 3-of-12 shooting.
After the red-hot first half, Boston College was held to 8-of-24 shooting in the second half.
Notre Dame improved to 11-3 in games decided by eight points or less.