Notre Dame will enter the final day of the regular season with a chance to share the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
Wednesday night’s 82-66 win over Boston College makes the Irish 23-7 overall and 12-5 in the ACC. The 19th-ranked Irish need a win over No. 8 Louisville on Saturday and a Duke victory over rival North Carolina to tie the Tar Heels for first place. Though UNC has already captured the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament, it would be a big accomplishment for head coach Mike Brey’s team.
“I don’t want anybody talking about a double bye,” Brey said. “I said, ‘I want us thinking about trying to share the regular-season championship. We win on Saturday and we’ll root for the Blue Devils on Saturday night and we’ll see where we stand.”
Even with a loss to Louisville, Notre Dame can get a double bye in the ACC Tournament. Those scenarios are laid out here.
Competing for a regular-season crown did not seem possible just a few weeks ago. Notre Dame lost four straight games to Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina to fall to 6-5 in league play on Feb. 4.
But six straight wins have followed to put the Irish alone in second place in the ACC with one game left.
“They’ve come off the mat. We’ve got a stable group, we’ve got a mature group,” Brey said. “The schedule was going to change, there’s no question about it and we’ve taken advantage of that.
“We’re healthy and we’ve got good energy heading to this postseason.”
BIG LINEUP SIGHTING
With Boston College a limited inside team, Brey took advantage and played junior forward Martinas Geben 10 minutes on Wednesday. After two straight games in which he did not appear for the Irish, Geben tallied six points and had four rebounds.
Minutes which have typically gone to senior reserve forward Austin Torres went Geben’s way. Torres played six minutes and did not score.
“The biggest thing was getting Martin Geben back in a flow,” Brey said. “I just think we’re going to need him, we’re going to need more hands on deck come the postseason. He didn’t play at all two games in a row and I just talked to him a little the past couple days to be ready. Wasn’t anything Torres didn’t do, it was giving some minutes to Martin to kind of make him feel good about himself. He did.
“Maybe we can feel we have another body there. That big body helps us. It screens, it leans on big guys and we’re not opposed to playing two bigs at times.”
Junior forward Bonzie Colson had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and complimented the play of the team’s bench.
“Everybody has to stay ready and that’s something we tell the guys, coach tells the guys, and that’s something that’s within our program,” Colson said. “Just stay ready and stay within our offense. They all were ready and confident.”
Notre Dame had a nice send-off for its three seniors Wednesday night.
V.J. Beachem scored 22 points to lead the team in scoring. Steve Vasturia added 10 points and five rebounds. Even walk-on Patrick Mazza saw action, playing one minute that included a dunk, a block and a rebound.
“We couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Brey said of Senior Night. “Your two seniors have fun, you can take them out of the game to a standing ovation with a minute and a half left. Then Pat Mazza, is he on [ESPN NBA Draft analyst] Chad Ford’s draft board yet?”
Beachem and Vasturia already have the two-year (56) and three-year (79) win total records at Notre Dame. The pair is closing in on the four-year record of 97 — they’re currently at 94.
Brey said the underclassmen were eager to send the seniors out the right way.
“Those guys, that’s the neat thing about the rhythm, that’s who our program is,” Brey said. “It’s kind of cool, it’s probably a throwback. They wanted it as bad for them as anybody, which is neat to see.”
It’s been almost two months since Notre Dame beat Louisville at Purcell Pavilion — a 77-70 victory in the Irish’s second league game — which makes Saturday’s rematch a bit odd.
“It really does feel like last season when you play somebody the second game [of ACC play],” Brey said. “I remember a little bit of the game, not much of it.”
Plenty has changed since that game. Notre Dame now primarily uses a four-guard lineup to space the floor. Louisville, which began 0-2, is coming off an 88-81 upset loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday.
Vasturia said the Irish will get Louisville’s best shot on Saturday.
“I’m sure they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game, it’ll be competitive,” Vasturia said. “They’re very talented and it’s going to be like Coach Brey always talks about, a hard game.
“Probably come down to game situations, so we’ve got to do the things that we do well and execute and just continue to play the way we’ve been playing.”
• Brey on freshman guard T.J. Gibbs, who scored four points in 21 minutes: “He sticks his nose in there and makes plays. He didn’t shoot it well, but he plays downhill and he shakes stuff up, gets his hands on things. He’s such an experienced guy for us now. We’ve leaned on him from day one, and he’s delivered for us.”
• Brey on Beachem: He’s in a great rhythm. He’s just been moving great and certainly going smaller helped him. Now he’s feeling really good about himself. The Big Four are going to have to be really good to play deep in either tournament.”