BUFFALO, N.Y. — As V.J. Beachem headed to the bench with 26 seconds remaining in Saturday’s 83-71 loss to West Virginia, the Notre Dame senior wing embraced head coach Mike Brey.
Beachem, who scored just nine points on 2-of-14 shooting, wanted to apologize to the coach for his poor performance.
Brey would have none of that.
“This is the kind of man he’s become,” Brey said of Beachem. “I take him out and when I’m hugging him, he goes, ‘Coach, I really let you down today.’
“I said, ‘Now don’t you dare because we aren’t in any of these positions without you.’ He took it really hard. He had some great looks. We wanted him to keep taking them.”
The second-round loss to the Mountaineers ended the careers of Beachem and Steve Vasturia, two of the winningest players in Irish basketball history. The duo won an Atlantic Coast Conference title, went 7-3 in NCAA Tournament games and reached back-to-back Elite Eights.
Beachem and Vasturia end their careers with 97 wins, tied for the most of any class in Notre Dame history.
Junior forward Bonzie Colson, who carried the Irish offensively with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, had trouble leaving the court. The All-ACC first-teamer was sobbing, saying afterwards he did not want the season to end.
“We were just trying to battle to not let it be their last game,” Colson said of the seniors. “I’m going to miss those guys, they had great careers here. They did everything they could to help us, they got us to this point and I’m going to miss them.”
After going 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC as freshmen, Beachem and Vasturia ushered the Irish into their recent stretch of prosperity.
Vasturia finished his career with 1,400 points. He played an amazing 4,402 minutes in 137 career games. Beachem carried Notre Dame in last year’s tourney run, submitting his name to the NBA Draft last summer before electing to return for one more year in South Bend.
“They’re the best winning guys who came through Notre Dame,” Colson said. “They got us here, they had great careers here. I’m going to miss them on and off the court. I’m going to miss their leadership, I’m going to miss just having them around. We wanted to get it for them, but it’s tough.
Beachem and Vasturia couldn’t get their shots to fall in the two games at KeyBank Center. Vasturia was 3-of-12 for 10 points and Beachem was 1-of-9 for just two points in the first round against Princeton.
Saturday was worse, as the pair combined to shoot 6-of-23 from the field and 2-of-14 from 3 in the loss.
“It’s something I’ll probably never forget in my life, just the way I played these last two games in my last NCAA Tournament,” Beachem said. “It’s something to learn and grow from as a man and as a player.”
Junior guard Matt Farrell will return next season, and with Colson — who might submit his name to the NBA board with the option to return — in the fold, the Irish have a solid 1-2 punch.
Replacing the seniors, though, won’t be easy.
“I can’t put it into words. Two guys that have had great careers here,” Farrell said. “It’s just tough, tough to go out this way. We knew it was going to end someday, but it’s tough. I’m just going to miss them off the court. But they’ve got something to celebrate, two great careers here. Trying to remember all the fun times we had.”
Sophomore sharpshooter Matt Ryan played 11 minutes against the Mountaineers, finishing with eight points (2-of-3 from 3-point range). He played just four minutes in the second half.
Brey was asked why he stuck with the struggling Beachem instead of playing Ryan more minutes.
“He’s our guy. He’s been a guy that has kind of bounced out of it and made those then,” Brey said of Beachem. “He’s had tough games maybe for 31 minutes and then he makes a couple plays at the end. I just felt, you’ve got to ride him.
“Our seniors, you know me, we ride those guys. They get every opportunity to kind of play their way out of it.”
Brey said both Beachem and Vasturia received invitations to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a camp for the top seniors in college basketball.
Beachem will also play in the college all-star game at the Final Four in Phoenix.
“They both have a chance to make a living playing basketball,” Brey said.