Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey prepped his team for an emotional response by the NC State Wolfpack.
NC State fired head coach Mark Gottfried on Thursday, just two days before the matchup against the Irish at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. And though Brey’s squad built a lead as large as 23 points in the second-half, the Wolfpack responded with a charge that got within seven points.
“I had every reason to believe State would make a run,” Brey said. “Today I thought they showed great fight and character. Obviously they’ve had a lot going on the last 48 hours. I’m also proud that we were poised enough to kind of hold them off and get our 10th league win. Ten league wins in this league this year is something to be really proud of.
“I talked to them very openly and I said, ‘You know fellas, we’re going to get their Duke effort. There’s no more speculation, they’ll rally a little bit.”
Notre Dame held on for an 81-72 win. The victory makes Notre Dame 21-7 overall and 10-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the third-straight year with double-digit league wins for the Irish.
“It’s been really powerful,” Brey said. “Winning records in this league three of the four years we’ve been in it. Certainly we posted a lot of winning records in the Big East. We’ve been really consistent doing that.
“That’s how we played our way into NCAA Tournament bids very regularly. Handling regular season league play well, whether it’s the Big East or the ACC.”
Offense Keeps Clicking
Led by a 27-point effort by senior wing V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame once again looked like an offensive juggernaut against an ACC opponent.
After failing to score 80 points in its four-game losing streak to Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina, the Irish have scored 80-plus during its current four game winning streak.
Beachem missed his first shot of the game. He’d go on to finish 10-of-16 from the field and 7-of-12 from 3-point range. Beachem’s seven made 3-pointers are the most by a Notre Dame player in an ACC game. That’s still three off the record for most in any game by an Irish player, set by Kyle McAlarney (10) against North Carolina in 2008.
“I was just in a good rhythm,” Beachem said. “Everybody was today coming out of the gates.”
Junior guard Matt Farrell, who finished with eight assists, made it a point to find him, Beachem said. It also helps that PNC Arena is one of Beachem’s favorite arenas to play in, he said, because of the dark backdrop and well-lit court.
“The guys are finding me,” Beachem said. “Even when they went to that zone they were finding me and I was just stepping up and shooting the way coach tells me to.”
Beachem boosted his average to 15.0 a game and appears to be finding his groove entering the season’s stretch run.
“He was feeling it. He’s really been on a good roll for us,” Brey said of the Fort Wayne native. “The closer it gets to March the better he plays. We know he’s pretty darn good in March, last year he was off the charts in March.”
3-Point Defense Key
While the Irish were hot from long range — making 13-of-30 3-pointers — the Wolfpack was equally as cold.
Gottfried’s team made just 3-of-14 attempts from 3. Terry Henderson made two and Maverick Rowan made one. Star freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. did not make any of his three attempts.
NC State entered the game making just 36.6 percent of its 3-pointers, 12th in the 15-team ACC. Notre Dame is first at 39.5 percent.
“You’ve got to give some credit to our defense,” Brey said. “One of the things we tried to do, no matter who we play, is really chase people off the arc. I reiterated at halftime, the way they get back in it and maybe beat us is if they make a number of 3-point shots. Yeah they were scoring in the second half, but they were twos.
“We’re so efficient on the offensive end and we make free throws, it’s kind of hard to catch us. If you give up threes, now the whole thing changes. We were really good at (Boston College) the other night chasing them off the line and chasing the State shooters off the line helped us, gave us enough of a gap to finish.”