Heart Willing, Performance Falls Short

Brey commends effort, performance/leadership provided by Vasturia and Beachem, who played an instrumental role in leading the Irish to 82 victories in three years

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Too many first-half turnovers.

Not enough quality shooting from the quality shooters.

Too much yield to a 36-percent three-point-shooting opponent.

An atypical performance by the opposition at the free-throw line.

There is no mystery as to why Notre Dame’s season came to an end Saturday afternoon at the KeyBank Center in second-round action of the NCAA tournament.

West Virginia played better from start to finish, and no matter how many times the Irish made a run at it – and they made a few – the Mountaineers (28-8) had an answer for every charge in their 83-71 victory over Notre Dame (26-10).

The careers of Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem came to a close in bitter fashion.

“That start hurt us,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey of West Virginia’s 10-0 run to open the game. “When you’re digging out of a hole against a team like that, it’s just an uphill climb and it’s draining mentally and physically.

“I love that we made some runs and tried to close the gap, but West Virginia made big shots to hold us off any time we thought we had a little hope. I wasn’t expecting them to shoot as well from outside as they did.”

The Mountaineers took the lead 1:08 into the game and never trailed.

A middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team throughout the 2016-17 season, the Mountaineers made 8-of-14 three-pointers (57.1 percent). A 68-percent free-throw shooting team, they converted 21-of-26 (80.8 percent) to answer every Irish charge.

• Notre Dame pulled to within three with 4:31 left in the first half, but trailed by seven at the break.

• Notre Dame cut it to four with 15 minutes left in the game. West Virginia shot it up to 12 within five minutes.

• Notre Dame’s last run came with three minutes left when Matt Ryan’s three-pointer made it a 72-66 game. The Mountaineers scored the next six points to ice it.

On the flip side, the Irish didn’t shoot it well enough. They did go a perfect 17-of-17 from the free-throw line, but 10-of-28 shooting from three-point range and not enough scoring across the board couldn’t compensate for West Virginia’s answers.

“We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we would have liked,” said Vasturia, whose Notre Dame career ends with exactly 1,400 points, good for 22nd on Notre Dame’s all-time list.

“We expected to play for a little bit. To lose your last game of the season is never going to be easy, especially having it be your last (college) game. In a couple of days, I’m sure I’ll look back and appreciate what we achieved. But now, it’s tough to go out with a loss.”

Beachem’s regrets run deeper. He made just 2-of-14 shots after a 1-of-9 performance two days earlier to finish his two-game NCAA tournament with 11 points on 3-of-23 shooting.

“Shoot the next one,” said Beachem, when asked what was going through his head during his two-game shooting slump.

“My parents, my coaches, my teammates…everyone my entire life has been telling me to shoot the next one and live with the result. My teammates did a great job of finding me like they always do. I just wasn’t able to knock them down.”

Brey’s compassion for his players shined through as he discussed the close to Beachem’s career with the Irish.

“This is the kind of man he’s become,” said Brey of Beachem. “I take him out and when I’m hugging him, he goes, ‘Coach, I really let you down today.’

“I said, ‘Now don’t you dare because we aren’t in any of these positions without you.’ He took it really hard. He had some great looks. We wanted him to keep taking them.

“I know he’s stinging and I just wanted him to know that we don’t do a lot of things in March without what that guy’s done big-picture.”

The only consistent force for the Irish was Bonzie Colson, who closed a brilliant junior season with another spectacular performance. Even the normally-reliable Matt Farrell couldn’t provide a one-two punch with Colson.

Farrell finished with eight points, six assists, four turnovers and just six shots – his fewest field-goal attempts since the Virginia game on Jan. 24.

Colson finished with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in 37 minutes of action.

He picked up his third foul less than a minute-and-a-half into the second half and his fourth with 9:47 remaining. Colson scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half to finish the season with a 17.7 scoring average and 10.0 rebounding mark.

“It’s one of the worst feelings in the world,” Colson said. “I wanted to do it for the seniors and just try to battle as much as I could. Knowing it’s their last game, I’m going to miss those guys. They did everything they could to help us. They got us to this point.”

Brey said after the game that Colson was less than 100 percent after twisting his right ankle a week ago in Brooklyn.

West Virginia’s Jevon Carter was the main culprit in Notre Dame’s bad day, scoring 13 first-half points while building a 42-35 halftime lead. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting.

Whenever the Mountaineers needed a bucket to stem Notre Dame’s occasional tide, Carter delivered, nailing 4-of-5 from three-point range.

“Carter is such a big-time winner,” Brey said. “The shots he made today were backbreaking. Any time we cut it to two possessions and you’re thinking maybe, somebody made a big shot or a tip-in.

“Carter was the assassin today. Anytime we thought we had some hope, he made a big-time play. He’s a man. He’s a winning guard. He’s a great college guard.”

Expectations have changed dramatically in the Notre Dame men’s basketball program, which is what made the first-weekend exit that much more difficult to swallow.

 “We’ve been used to getting to the second weekend, which is why our guys are so crushed,” Brey said. “I love that that is part of the expectation within our program now.”

In retrospect, three straight late nights in the ACC tournament drained Notre Dame’s tank.

“We used a lot of juice in Brooklyn, and I think you could see it in the Princeton game,” Brey said. “I was hoping with the win and emotion, we would have a little more juice.

“But playing against that style of play, it exhausts you, and a lot of those open looks we got were a little short because you’re playing against that full-court pressure.”

Amidst the disappointment of the end of a third straight successful season in the ACC and post-season, Brey reflected on his seniors.

“Those guys were unbelievable,” said Brey of Vasturia and Beachem. “The careers they’ve had, winning in this tournament, winning overall…

“As I told the young guys, you had yet again another great example of two seniors that have led and been men and have come prepared every day. I’ll miss those guys. But I feel like we’re turning them loose in the world as men.”


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories