V.J. Beachem scored 27 points and Notre Dame’s bench added 17 including a crucial 15 in a decisive first half as Mike Brey’s surging Irish held off North Carolina State 81-72 in Raleigh.
The Irish led by as many as 23 in the second half but their hosts did not go down easily, cutting the lead to single digits, 75-66 with nearly three minutes remaining – and later trimmed it to seven, 75-68, with more than a minute to play.
Recently fired Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried requested this week that he finish out the season with his players, who fought gamely Saturday despite the daunting deficit. Including today’s defeat, Gottfried and the Wolfpack have lost their last four contests by a combined 87 points.
“I felt they’d make a run. They have some really gifted offensive players,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey of the lost lead. “I’m thrilled that we got to 10 league wins, and now we have a bye week and its 65 degrees in South Bend. I can’t wait to get home.”
The win was Notre Dame’s fifth in its eighth of nine true road contests this season and thus guarantees the program’s seventh winning road mark over 22 seasons of conference affiliation.
Beachem’s stroke from long range provided the biggest boost.
“He was big for us,” said Brey. “He has continued to play well down the stretch for us. I think the closer it gets to March the better he plays.”
Beachem hit five three-point baskets in the second half alone, finishing 7-for-12 from beyond the arc and 10 of 16 from the field overall.
STEMMING THE TIDE
The Wolfpack initially trimmed Notre Dame’s 23-point lead to 10, 66-56, with 7:23 remaining but Irish junior Matt Farrell – as is his wont – stepped up when needed, nailing a three-pointer from the key one possession later.
Farrell struggled throughout, connecting on just two of his eight field goal attempts (seven of them three-pointers) though he managed eight assists.
The breathing room his bucket provided remained intact as the team’s exchanged scores for nearly five minutes until North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson knocked down a corner three-point shot with 2:57 remaining and a nine-point deficit.
Though the lead would be trimmed to 77-70 two possessions later, the Wolfpack would get no closer as Farrell and senior Steve Vasturia combined to hit six of seven free throws (Vasturia 4-4) down the stretch.
Notre Dame has made good on 82 of its 95 free throw attempts during its four-game winning streak, one that includes two road wins and a victory over No. 14 Florida State.
The current four-game streak came on the heels of a four-game losing skid that took the once 6-1 Irish to 6-5. Today’s win marked the team’s 10th in 15 ACC outings with home dates against Georgia Tech (6-7) and Boston College (2-12) on tap. A season-ending road trip down US-31 to the KFC YUM! Center pits the Irish against current No. 8 Louisville (9-4 pending today’s contest against Virginia Tech).
North Carolina State was led by freshman guard Dennis Smith who scored 16 on 14 field goal attempts. Smith was limited to four points in the first half, checked throughout by Notre Dame’s defensive tandem of Vasturia and Rex Pflueger.
Sophomore Maverick Rowan – son former Notre Dame player Ron Rowan – chipped in 15 while backup point guard Markell Johnson scored 12 off the bench.
Averaging 26.7 points over his last three contests – each an Irish victory -- Bonzie Colson was held to 13 points along with a game-high seven rebounds, four below his season average. Colson hit each of his five shots in the first half but managed just one score in the second, a clutch bucket and ensuing foul shot that provided the Irish with a 72-59 advantage.
Notre Dame shot 59 percent from the floor in the first half including 6-for-12 from beyond the arc. They finished an even 50 percent for the afternoon after missing 18 of 31 field goal attempts including 11 of their 18 triples in the second stanza.
North Carolina State was just 1-for-10 from long range in the first half (3-for-14 for the game) but connected on 18 of its 28 second half field goal attempts (64 percent) and 30 of 58 attempts overall.
Notre Dame is now 35-16 over its last 51 conference games after plummeting to 6-12 in 2013-14, its first season of Athletic Coast Conference action.
Former Irish squads from 2001, 2002, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2015 also finished with an above .500 mark in conference road games – each was coached by Brey. Among those, only the 2015 season that concluded with a 32-6 overall mark and Elite 8 finish featured ACC affiliation.
Brey’s Irish don’t play for eight days, hosting Georgia Tech on February 26 in South Bend.