Jan 5, 2014, 11:31 AM EDT
Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBlogger.
New Year’s resolutions are all about doing something better or to stop doing something bad. What was Notre Dame basketball’s New Year’s resolution for 2014? Apparently, it was extending their streak of beating top-ten ranked teams at home to five. Unlike the majority of resolutions, which are usually broken within 24 hours of making them, Notre Dame fulfilled their’s Saturday afternoon.
Duke rolling into town was, without question, going to be Notre Dame’s toughest matchup on the 2013-2014 home schedule. Not only were they ranked seventh in the country and it was Notre Dame’s inaugural game in the ACC, but Notre Dame was going to have to rely on their younger players to pick up the slack left by the absence of senior Jerian Grant from the roster.
Did the Irish get phased by any of this? -NO
Did they listen to all the pundits who said losing Grant ended their season? -NO
And did they give up when they were down by 10 points in the second half? -NO SIR
The college basketball world is starting to realize that this group is a resilient bunch. When the odds are stacked against them is when the Irish play their best basketball. And that is what happened on Saturday. A 20-4 run made by the Irish in the second half coupled with a powerful dunk by Pat Connaughton and solid free throw shooting sealed the game away and Notre Dame captured their first ACC win, beating the Blue Devils 79-77.
Although there were many exciting instances during the team’s victory, one aspect of their game really stood out.
In my last article titled “The @NDmbb Progress Report,” I stated the following when grading the team’s bench depth: “I just need to see them perform at the high quality I know they can in a big game environment. And this Saturday (the Duke game) is the perfect opportunity.”
The bench players, in particular Steve Vasturia and Austin Burgett, must have read the challenge I gave them, because they responded in an outstanding fashion.
Steve Vasturia was averaging just 1.9 points per game this season and after he missed a free throw at the end of the Ohio State game, fans were questioning his ability. However, head coach Mike Brey never lost faith in him and, in 22 minutes played tonight, he scored a career-high 9 points.
When asked about where he gets his confidence on the court, Vasturia had this to say, “It helps practicing against guys like Eric [Atkins] and Pat [Connaughton] every day.” He reflected saying, “Being able to compete with them in practice gives you confidence to do it in the game.”
With Vasturia nailing down three “3-pointers” along with his four defensive rebounds made against the Duke Blue Devils were key in the victory.
When Austin Burgett is on the court, the opponent should just not try to put up a shot, because odds are he will probably block it. Saturday, the Irish blocked six shots. Burgett accounted for five of those.
It was good seeing Burgett finally shining on the court because this year it seems like his early foul trouble always overshadowed his contributions made on the court. His contributions did not just show up on Notre Dame’s stat sheet, but on Duke’s as well.
Burgett had the difficult task of guarding what many people think may be the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Jabari Parker, who is one of top freshman in D-1 Basketball. Parker, before Saturday, was averaging 21. 4 PPG and 8.0 RPG. Burgett, along with his teammates, did a great job guarding him with Parker ending up the night shooting just 2-10 from the field, scoring only seven points and snagging four rebounds.
“We went through practice and knew that one of his favorite moves was that rocker step pull up, and sometimes you can’t stop that,” Burgett stated in reference to Parker. “But as long as you get a hand up it’s distracting and it’s hard to hit shots like that.”
Limiting Parker as far as shooting goes was huge for the team in their win against the Blue Devils.
1) Duke Is Dangerous- Whether it is from three-point range or when on the foul line shooting free throws, Duke was extremely dangerous. From the foul line, Duke collectively shot 85% making 17 of 20 free throws. Even more impressive was how many three’s Duke was making: Twelve in fact. Lucky for the Irish though, Duke went on a dry spell in the second half when they only made one shot from the field allowing Notre Dame to implement their comeback.
2) Points In The Paint- Notre Dame tonight made a concerted effort to force the ball inside which was the opposite strategy of the Blue Devils who were shooting three’s like it was their job. This resulted in the Irish outscoring Duke from inside the paint 44-16. Moving the ball inside turned out to be a good strategy for Coach Brey, who in turn converted more possessions and stayed in the game throughout until they made their big run in the second half.
3) Defensive Rebounds- Notre Dame was struggling racking up the defensive rebounds this season. Tonight, however, they had no trouble going up strong and pulling in the loose ball. Twenty-eight rebounds on the defensive side of the ball proved this fact. Every Irish player who saw time on the court, except for V.J. Beachem, recorded at least one defensive rebound with five of them getting at least four boards. Not allowing second chance points to the Blue Devils was another factor in the big win for the Irish.
Tonight was huge for the team’s confidence as they move forward in their conference play. This game against Duke showed they have all the capability of being a great basketball team with the talent to beat any team in the NCAA. Notre Dame never stressed when they got down. When one player was struggling, another seemed to always be there to pick up the slack. Just like Notre Dame’s Victory March goes, “What though the odds be great or small, old Notre Dame will win over all.”
Be sure to join us again on Tuesday night as the Irish take on NC State at 9 p.m. (ET) at Purcell Pavilion.
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