That game certainly grabbed at every competing emotion of Irish fans. From disgust to ecstasy, the Irish once again looked hapless early and came out an inspired team in the second half. In honor of V.J. Beachem’s game-high 18 points, here are the 18 things you need to know from ND’s 70-63 win.
1. Holy V.J. Beachem. After doing literally nothing in the first half, Beach exploded in the second, finishing 7-7 from the floor. V.J. took over down the stretch, knocking down bucket after bucket in ND’s 19-9 run to finish the game (after Matt Farrell exited the game with cramps…more on that below). That three ball is locked in right now.
2. Obviously, the defense in the second half was fantastic. The Irish outscored Michigan 41-22 after the break, after Brey ditched the zone and went man for the final 20 minutes. More Rex Pflueger equaled more Michigan possessions that took 20+ seconds to get a shot. Bonz and Auguste combined for 5 blocks, and contributed to the +8 rebounding advantage.
3. Brey went almost exclusively to the 4 guard/1 big lineup in the second half, which helped the offensive flow, but was necessary defensively. Bonz gave the Irish some huge production down the stretch, with an offensive board and bucket, and two big FTs to seal it. More of this Bonz, please.
4. Let’s get to the elephant in the room. What the hell is going on with the first 20 minutes? Another hideous start put the Irish down 13 early, and 12 at the half. No offensive flow. Absolutely no defense. ND has now been down at half in 10 of the last 14 games…and in each of those 10…they have been down at least seven points (six by double digits). It’s a serious problem…and if they get down to Stone Cold big…they aren’t coming back.
5. ZA’s pick and roll defense has always been bad, but a sequence in the second half probably led to him on the bench for the final two minutes. Auguste was late to get back, leading to a Donnal easy bucket to get Michigan within three. Brey immediately pulled him, and when Michigan went to the same play against Bonz, he was able to get back and force a badly missed layup. Now, Bonz has not played great defense this year, but he really stepped it up last night.
6. The second elephant in the room has to be the shooting woes of Jackson and Vasturia. Here’s the stat I posted at halftime about their slump:
Vasturia’s quick five points to start the half were incredibly big, as he got a bucket driving to the rim and hit a three in the first minute. Then Farrell’s three cut it to four, to give the Irish an 8-0 run out the gate. Stove and DJ still only finished 7-19 from the field, and they have to come out of it in a big way soon, right?
7. Speaking of Farrell, he got the surprise start last night…mainly I’m sure to match up with Michigan’s small lineup. I’ll give Farrell this, while he can’t play a lick of defense, he can create some easy looks for others on the other end. Now, he did have three absolutely awful turnovers (not as bad as the one against NC State when he passed it to the ref standing out of bounds). I joked when I saw the starting lineup that he may have told Brey he was considering transferring, but he wasn’t awful.
8. Matt Ryan came in and hit a huge three in the 2nd half…then missed a heat check that I was fine with. For the Irish to keep advancing, he’s going to have to hit a few more big ones.
9. I didn’t realize Zak Irvin copied Austin Torres’ FT stroke. He had a rough night, going 4-16 and 1-9 from deep.
10. ND shot 59.1% in the first half and were down by 12. How? 10 turnovers, and they allowed 7 threes.
11. Speaking of turnovers, after taking excellent care of the ball all year, the Irish have become incredibly careless. 16 more turnovers (after 17 and 18 in their two ACC tournament games). Stone Cold turned WVU over 22 times last night…
12. 58.1% from the field, 53.3% from deep, 80% from the line. If you told me that those would be ND’s final numbers, I would have projected a 22 point win.
13. Rex is going to have to play some meaningful minutes tomorrow, as I would guess he sees a lot of Thomas Walkup. The kid’s D was just fantastic last night.
14. Derrick Walton had 10 quick points as Michigan jumped out to the 26-13 advantage. He finished with 10 points. To be fair, he also had 8 assists and 6 steals.
15. The Irish got the benefit of a huge call late. Rex drew a charge on Wagner with the game tied at 56, and it looked like a block. It was big because Wagner made the bucket and would have had a chance to put Michigan up three.
16. Michigan plays horrible low-post defense, and Auguste only took five shots. There were times that they could feed him and didn’t. It should have been a priority.
17. After a Matt Ryan triple tied it at 48, Beach scored 11 of the next 16 points. His barrage ended with a three and a pull-up jumper on back-to-back possessions to put the Irish up 64-59. Man, was he excellent. Silky.
18. As the five of you who read this blog know, I have touted Stephen F. Austin for the last month. Before yesterday’s win over WVU (by 14 points), they had won nine straight games by 20+ points. They are relentless defensively and Thomas Walkup is a stud, although he looks like he would be better fitted for a spot on The Walking Dead. Tomorrow afternoon can’t come soon enough.