PAINT JOB: A SECOND COAT
Notre Dame scored an incredibly-low 16 points in the paint compared to Georgia Tech’s 38.
The Irish also managed just six points off the bench as the Yellow Jackets – make that Tadric Jackson – scored 20.
Notre Dame netted just 10 two-point field goals to Georgia Tech’s 23.
These are the kind of numbers that ultimately end seasons in the NCAA tournament and cut short conference tournament runs.
On Sunday night, however, enough three-pointers and free throws – and plenty of Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell -- were the difference in No. 21-ranked Notre Dame’s 64-60 victory over Georgia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (22-7, 11-5) enter the final week of the regular season in a three-way tie for second place in the ACC with Florida State and Louisville.
“We were able to get to the foul line,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, whose team converted 14-of-18 from the line, led by Farrell’s 9-of-10.
“We got to the bonus quick in the second half and that helped us put points on the board. It’s hard to score from the paint with (Ben Lammers) back there. He makes some unbelievable recovery blocks. He’s really a gifted young man.”
The 6-foot-10 Lammers, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, blocked four shots. But as he did in Atlanta four weeks earlier when he swatted three shots, his presence in the middle alters everything.
Employing a 1-3-1 defense most of the night, Georgia Tech kept pushing Notre Dame’s offensive sets further and further away from the basket.
Just when you thought the Irish might be able to take advantage on the back end, Lammers would swoop in and make life difficult, forcing the Irish to kick it back out and attempt another three-pointer.
Notre Dame had more three-point attempts (29) than two-point shots (28).
“Ever since I’ve been here, Georgia Tech has been a struggle,” said Colson, who recorded his 10th double-double in ACC play with 20 points and 11 rebounds, including four of Notre Dame’s seven offensive rebounds. “It’s the way they play defense. It’s hard to get in a rhythm.
“But some of our plays and our movement is a challenge for them. We just need to keep doing that and sticking to what we do.”
Colson nailed all three of his three-point attempts, which helped neutralize Lammers. The rest of the Irish managed just 7-of-26 from three-point land.
“I’m trying to shoot with confidence,” said Colson, who has made seven of his last nine three-point attempts. “Everybody on the team was telling me to shoot with confidence.
“We needed to stay patient on that end because they’re in a 1-3-1 and they’re pushing it out, so me ball screening and the other guys attacking really helped us out.”
Notre Dame’s 10 two-point baskets marked its lowest output of the season, surpassing the 12 against Clemson on Jan. 7. Five of those 10 two-point baskets came off the soft touch of Colson.
“He’s playing as well as anybody in the country and anybody in our league,” said Brey of Colson. “He knew some of our perimeter guys weren’t going offensively, and he was smart enough to know it was hard to score on Lammers around the paint.
“So he shot some jumpers on him and kind of found different ways to do it. He set a great tone for us.”
IRISH DEFENSE OR GT’S OFFENSIVE DEFICIENCIES?
Georgia Tech is offensively challenged. For the 13th time in 29 games, the Yellow Jackets scored 62 points or fewer.
Brey credited his squad’s second-half defense for keeping Georgia Tech on the short end of the scoreboard. The Yellow Jackets converted 13-of-32 field-goal attempts (40.6 percent). Notre Dame never trailed over the final 32:42, although its lead touched double-digits just once – for a grand total of eight seconds.
“Our D was the difference,” Brey said. “They’re hard to play because they’re good defensively. We missed some looks that we usually make, but it didn’t affect us going back on the other end and guarding.”
Georgia Tech converted 23-of-43 two-point attempts (53.4 percent), so it wasn’t like the Irish were completely stifling the Yellow Jackets’ attack. They scored 43 of their 60 points from the paint/free-throw line.
The fact is Georgia Tech is a poor offensive team, particularly from three-point range. The Yellow Jackets came into the game with a) the worst three-point percentage in the ACC (.348) and b) the fewest attempts by nearly 100.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, entered the contest with 309 more three-point attempts on the season and 141 more three-pointers made than Georgia Tech.
“Our limitations are shooting. That’s why we don’t shoot a lot of threes,” said Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner. “That’s a part of the rebuild in the recruiting process. We’ve got to get help in the shooting and scoring department.”
Despite their shooting woes, Pastner chastised his team at halftime for not shooting more three-pointers. It was the only way to keep pace. The Yellow Jackets were just 1-of-4 from beyond the arc as Notre Dame built a 34-28 halftime lead.
An incredible 34:27 elapsed between Josh Okogie’s three-pointer in the first half and Tadric Jackson’s three-pointer with 1:16 left in the game. Jackson added another moments later as Georgia Tech finished 3-of-15 from three-point range.
Notre Dame’s 10 three-pointers accounted for 21 more points than the Yellow Jackets from beyond the arc. The Irish also had a nine-point advantage from the free-throw line.
“One of the things I told our team today during shoot-around was that we haven’t been in the battles for a while,” said Brey, whose team had an eight-day layoff between games.
“I said, ‘It’s kind of been an easy week. There’s been nothing to frustrate us. So when some frustrating stuff happens – this game is going to be a hard game – are we going to be mentally tough enough to fight through that and go back and guard?’
“I knew we would have empty offensive possessions against them. They’re just too good defensively.”
And too poor offensively, which is why the Yellow Jackets are fighting an uphill struggle for an NCAA tournament berth as they fell to 7-9 in ACC play.
FARRELL’S SECOND HALF
Georgia Tech’s 1-3-1 defense gave the Irish fits, in particular V.J. Beachem, who shot just 3-of-14 from the field and 2-of-9 from three-point range. Brey said Beachem was battling the flu, left practice early and skipped Saturday night’s team dinner.
Matt Farrell was struggling too. He picked up his second foul midway through the first half and sat for the next five minutes. He managed just one shot – a miss – in the first 15 minutes of the game.
He scored his first three points with just under four minutes left in the first half for his only bucket. But Farrell scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half – nearly half of Notre Dame’s 30 points over the final 20 minutes.
He managed just three field goals for the game, two from three-point range. But his 9-of-10 from the line, including 7-of-8 in the final 1:48, helped seal the victory.
“I give Matt Farrell a lot of credit,” Brey said. “Foul trouble, not a great rhythm…but the guy just kind of finds a way.”
Assists are difficult to come by against Georgia Tech. Steve Vasturia had five of Notre Dame’s 12. Farrell finished with two points and three turnovers, which marked just the second time in 16 ACC games that he’s come out on the short end of that statistical comparison.
“It was a tough night,” said Farrell, who has scored in double figures in 15 of 16 ACC games. “It speaks to our tenacity and toughness and doing whatever it takes to win.
“When it came to the second half, it was just about making winning plays for each other. It wasn’t about who was scoring; it was just about making sure we won.”
One of those “winning plays” came from Farrell with 3:40 left. Georgia Tech had pulled to within four points and the Irish were struggling to make field goals. (Notre Dame made just eight in the second half.)
As Colson battled for an offensive rebound, the ball was tapped to the corner where Farrell lingered with the shot clock approaching zero. Farrell caught the bouncing ball and immediately went up for the long two-pointer. The crucial basket gave the Irish a six-point lead.
That lead would expand to eight points moments later on a reverse lay-up by Vasturia.
“I’ve never done something like that,” Farrell laughed. “Right place, right time I guess. When it left my hand, it looked good. I ended up being in the right place.”