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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Observer

Irish keep momentum in road win at Clemson

After Saturday’s win over No. 9 North Carolina, Irish head coach Mike Brey pondered whether or not this Notre Dame squad was capable of hitting 10 3-pointers in a game like some of his previous teams had been able to.

He got an immediate response from his team Monday night in Greenville, South Carolina, as the Irish rode a 10-for-22 performance from deep to top Clemson, 89-83.

“For us to win the way we did and exert the energy we did against North Carolina on Saturday and turn around and grind this one out, I’m extremely proud of our group,” Brey said. “I think we’ve grown so much in the area of toughness and edge in the last 48 hours.”

Senior forward Zache Auguste reacts to a play during Notre Dame’s 80-76 victory over North Carolina last Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Auguste had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the game.
Senior forward Zache Auguste reacts to a play during Notre Dame’s 80-76 victory over North Carolina last Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Auguste had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the game.
Senior forward Zache Auguste reacts to a play during Notre Dame’s 80-76 victory over North Carolina last Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Auguste had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the game.

If Notre Dame (17-7, 8-4 ACC) was trying to prove its coach wrong Monday, it started on the right foot as junior forward V.J. Beachem got things off to a quick start, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers on Notre Dame’s first two field-goal attempts to give the Irish an early 6-0 lead. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson hit a 3-pointer of his own a couple minutes later to give the Irish an 11-2 start — and a lead they would never surrender.

Clemson (14-10, 7-5), however, responded with a 10-2 run of its own to bring the game within one at 13-12, but the home team was unable to take the lead as Jackson’s layup staved off the threat of the Tigers taking the lead.

When freshman forward Matt Ryan broke his shooting slump with the first of two 3-pointers to put Notre Dame up 18-14, it meant the Irish had already surpassed their 3-point total from Saturday on just seven attempts.

For the majority of the night, the game followed a consistent trend — the Irish would repeatedly pull out to a three-possession lead but could not push it to double digits before the Tigers pulled within a basket, never taking the lead in the game.

After having a handful of shots to do it throughout the night, Notre Dame finally grabbed its first double-digit lead of the contest when a layup by senior forward Zach Auguste with 5:11 to play gave Notre Dame some breathing room with a 69-58 lead. While Clemson pulled within five during the final seconds, the Irish did enough at the free-throw stripe down the stretch as part of a 21-of-25 performance from the line to secure the victory.

“We call it ‘winning time,’ that’s what our players call it, the last 10 minutes of the game, we just try to make plays to win us the game, and we did that tonight,” Beachem said.

Despite getting into foul trouble early with two fouls, Auguste had a team-high 19 points and eight rebounds in Monday’s game and Brey praised his senior captain’s play.

“He is playing so well, and he’s playing at the right time, playing great at the right time,” Brey said. “What I loved about him [Monday] is he gets in foul trouble. It was never a distraction though. He knew he was gonna play the whole second half, he did, and he was a warrior for us. Some of the physical plays he made around the bucket I think broke Clemson’s spirit a little bit.”

“I wanted to come out aggressive [in the second half] and help the team any way possible, be that on the glass or defensive,” Auguste said.

While Auguste led Notre Dame on the stat sheet, Monday’s game was another one where each of the five starters hit double figures; Jackson scored 17 while Beachem finished with 15 on a 4-for-7 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Bonzie Colson dropped 11 and junior guard Steve Vasturia went for 10.

The story on the stat line, however, was Clemson redshirt junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who became the first Tiger to score 30 points in two years when he hit the mark on a 13-for-19 performance from the field. The Irish, however, shut down the Tigers in the post, limiting their bigs to low outputs.

“I think we did a great job with our rotations.” Auguste said. “I think we did a great job limiting the second-chance opportunities and making it hard for them to post up and play in the interior.”

Like he did in Saturday night’s win over the Tar Heels, Brey trusted freshman guard Rex Pflueger down the stretch, who stayed on the court with Notre Dame’s quartet of upperclassman starters to see out the road victory.

Notre Dame’s win marked the first time in the ACC slate the Tigers suffered a home loss and solidified the Irish as a contender for a double-bye to the quarterfinals in the conference tournament in March; the top four teams receive the privilege of starting tournament play on the third day. While Brey’s team sits alone in fifth place, No. 13 Louisville’s self-imposed tournament ban means the Irish are in the driver’s seat.

“It’s a huge goal for us,” Beachem said of finishing in a top-four slot. “It’s something we’ve talked about as players, but we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

The Cardinals (19-5, 8-3), off a 72-65 road loss at Duke on Monday, come to Purcell Pavilion with Brey knowing the Irish offense will have to put in another strong shift to run their win streak to three.

“We’re gonna have to play against a great defense,” Brey said. “They’re gonna press us and then they go back to zone. It’s a great test for our ball-handling, taking care of the ball and our offensive efficiency against a great defensive team.”

Tipoff with Louisville is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday as Notre Dame will look to snag a third successive victory to end a challenging four-game stretch that had the potential to make or break their season.