Notre Dame Basketball Report: Irish Start ACC Play with a Bang!

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The arrival of 2017 coincides with another rise in the polls for the Notre Dame men’s basketball. That’s courtesy of a overtime road victory at ACC rival Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve that gave them a 12-2 season mark. That win followed the other less-memorable victory over Saint Peter’s that was likely due to the team looking ahead to their conference opener against the Panthers.

Right now, it appears the coaches have a little more confidence than the contingent making up the AP poll. Last week, they both placed the Irish in the 24th spot for the Top 25; this week, the AP moved up Notre Dame one spot, in contrast to the coaches, who decided an upward move of three spots to 21 was the right decision.

Notre Dame Basketball Week in Review

Facing the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s brought with it the usual dangers of looking ahead to a more formidable opponent. Notre Dame appeared to be following that script by emerging with only a 63-55 win, offering a second consecutive game of double-digit turnovers as evidence. Holding a 10-point halftime lead of 33-23, the Irish again struggled to put an opponent away, being on the short end of second half scoring for the fifth straight game.

Against Pitt, Notre Dame needed an extra five minutes and some heroics from Steve Vasturia to begin ACC play with a 78-77 victory. The fact that Vasturia was still in the game was something of a minor miracle, given the foul trouble he was in for much of the second half and overtime.

Notre Dame Basketball Standouts of the Week

Steve Vasturia

Without Vasturia on the court in Pittsburgh, the Irish would be looking at a conference mark of 0-1. That’s because his two free throws with 25 seconds left helped send the game to overtime. In that extra period, he grabbed his own missed shot with 21 seconds left and Notre Dame trailing by two at 75-77. Vasturia then drained his three-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Vasturia finished with 15 points and five assists against Pitt, adding a pair of rebounds and steals. Those totals were slightly better than his St. Peter’s performance, when he tallied 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. Of course, his last three points on Saturday are the only points that truly mattered.

Bonzie Colson

Two more effective games are helping solidify his opportunities for postseason honors. Against St. Peter’s, Colson’s quiet night of 10 points and eight boards was punctuated by a pair of steals and assists. Facing the Panthers in an enemy environment, he tossed in 21 points and hauled in 14 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.

Staying Cool is Key

The Irish were able to keep their composure at Pitt during a first half that saw them fall behind by as many as 11 points. It also served them well after the break, when their eight-point lead collapsed in a 15-2 run. Finally, they ended up scoring eight of the final 10 points of overtime after trailing 75-70 with 2:25 left.

Notre Dame’s Week Ahead

Mike Brey’s squad has no time to bask in the glory of their dramatic win. That’s because the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals will be coming to South Bend for a huge game on January 4. Rick Pitino’s unit also has a 12-2 record, with their 0-1 ACC record the result of a 61-53 upset loss to 12th-ranked Virginia last Wednesday.

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  1. Damian, you’re another fantasy believer. The Irish may go 500 in league play, but, that may be enough to get them a bid. At least a NIT bid.

    1. I think it’s pretty likely they’ll get in the NCAA tourney. They get in more times then not with lesser talent. The question is how far do they go? I honestly don’t know. If they play like they did against Pitt, they could go a few games deep. I think this team is actually better and deeper then last years which went as far as the elite 8. But if they let up on teams like they did against Fort Wayne and Purdue (or even Villanova, though Nova would be tough to beat on the best of days), then they could face an early exit.

      But they’ll get to the tournament. That I’m at least confident in.

  2. Great win over Pitt. I was concerned after the Purdue loss that they were letting up in the 2nd half against some teams, but this time they kept it together until the end. The team is experienced enough I don’t worry about them getting nervous about falling behind. They just need to keep the pedal on the gas for the entire game and more times then not they’ll end up on the winning side.

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