Connaughton leads Notre Dame to 70-63 win over Virginia Tech
BY LAMOND POPE Sun-Times Media January 19, 2014 7:04PM
Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton, left, drives the lane as Virginia Tech guard Christian Beyer defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: January 19, 2014 8:55PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Mike Brey came up with a catchy nickname for himself.
“‘Must-win Mike,’” the Notre Dame coach joked, “because I’ve been in a lot of these must-win (games).”
After dropping three in a row, and with their next two on the road, the Irish needed to find a way to win Sunday’s home contest against Virginia Tech.
Pat Connaughton delivered, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds in a 70-63 victory against the Hokies.
Demetrius Jackson scored 13 points while Eric Atkins added 12 more as the Irish won on the 40-year anniversary of the 1974 team’s historic victory against UCLA.
Several of the Notre Dame players from that win, which snapped the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak, attended Sunday’s game to watch former coach Digger Phelps’ induction into the school’s Ring of Honor.
They also saw a desperate Notre Dame team come up with a big victory.
“We really needed this,” Brey said. “I was channeling ever bit of the 1974 team and the guy with the highlighter (Phelps). I was channeling all the karma. We needed it.
“It was a special night. I’m glad we could win it on this night.”
Connaughton provided the spark, connecting on four three-pointers.
“Flat-out man,” Brey said of Connaughton. “I was after him a little bit to lead better since Maryland and set the tone for us defensively. Pat is amazingly coachable. I challenged him, and Eric and (Garrick) Sherman.
“He kind of wouldn’t let you lose tonight. Not surprising, because that’s one guy that is extremely dependable.”
Notre Dame (11-7, 2-3 ACC) built a 39-24 halftime lead. But the Irish also had a double-digit lead in their previous game at Maryland, only to see the Terrapins rally for a 74-66 victory.
The players were determined to avoid a repeat.
But the Hokies (8-9, 1-4) started the second half with an 18-7 run to get within four. Later in the half, Devin Wilson made two free throws to make it 53-51 with 9:55 remaining.
The Irish didn’t panic. Instead, Notre Dame got the ball to Connaughton, who made a three-pointer.
“It was just keep playing,” Connaughton said. “We know it’s a long game. We’ve been in situations where we’ve been down and we’ve been able to use the long game to our advantage and come back. When you’re on the other side of it, you want to make sure you are getting those stops and doing those toughness things that can put a team away.
“It was nice to see us bounce back when they brought it to two.”
Steve Vasturia made another three-pointer for the Irish to extend the lead to 59-51.
Virginia Tech didn’t get any closer than five points the rest of the way. And now the Irish head on the road for games at Florida State and Wake Forest with some confidence.
“To get this one,” Atkins said, “is huge for us.”