V.J. Beachem's 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting led all scorers as Notre Dame overcame 12-point halftime deficit to bounce Michigan from NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
BROOKLYN -- Over the years, Notre Dame has always had a player on the perimeter with the ability to knock down shots from long distance. Be it Ryan Ayers, Tim Abromaitis, or anyone else that has come through South Bend under head coach Mike Brey's decade-and-a-half tenure, the Fighting Irish have managed to count on lethal marksmanship on the wing to help sustain their success.
Friday evening was V.J. Beachem's latest turn to shine.
Beachem, whose back-to-back threes late in the second half of Notre Dame's ACC tournament quarterfinal matchup against Duke last week galvanized an eventual come-from-behind win, did more of the same on this night, draining all four of his attempts from beyond the arc en route to not missing a single shot of the seven he took in the sixth-seeded Fighting Irish's 70-63 win over No. 11 seed Michigan in first-round action from the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament, setting up a second-round showdown with Stephen F. Austin, who upset third-seeded West Virginia earlier in the evening at Barclays Center.
"There was really no moment that stood out for me," said Beachem, whose 18 points led all scorers as Notre Dame (22-11) overcame a 12-point halftime deficit by shooting 58 percent from the floor as a team, while holding the Wolverines (23-13) to a 28 percent clip after the intermission, yielding just nine field goals to a team that survived a First Four matchup on Wednesday to get to this stage. "I just tried to step up and knock down the shots. My teammates were really finding me. Matt Farrell told me before the game he was going to find me all night, and he really did. I was just stepping up, trying to knock down the shots, and I was fortunate that all of them dropped tonight."
Although Farrell scored just five points, the sophomore point guard delivered four clutch assists while starting in place of Bonzie Colson, and his presence on the floor gave the Irish a valuable second ball handler alongside projected NBA draft pick Demetrius Jackson.
"It's interesting," said Brey of Farrell's season to date. "He helped us win a bunch of games early, and then we got away from him and we were winning. Then we throw him in there to start, and he really delivered. His teammates are confident in him, and I'm very confident in him."
For a while, it appeared as though Notre Dame's spectacular shooting would be in vain, as Michigan took control with a crisp first half that saw the Wolverines commit just two turnovers while assisting on 12 of 16 made baskets to bring a 41-29 cushion into the intermission. But the Irish seized the initiative with a 22-7 run, taking the lead for the first time with 9:26 to play in regulation when a Beachem three made it 51-48 in their favor.
Michigan stormed back with an 8-2 spurt to regain the lead, but another Beachem triple with 6:12 on the clock knotted the proceedings at 56 apiece. Following a stretch where both teams traded layups and free throws, it was none other than Beachem that struck again, giving Notre Dame the lead for good with his fourth and final three-ball prior to burying a jumper for good measure on the ensuing possession.
For Brey, who admitted Beachem was not much of a factor in Notre Dame's run to the Elite Eight last season, when the Fighting Irish came within a whisker of defeating Kentucky and advancing to the Final Four, Friday's effort provided a proud moment in the junior's evolution.
"I'm really proud of him," Brey stated. "A year ago, he didn't have a very good postseason, he didn't even play in the NCAA Tournament. He really struggled. For him to deliver like he did in D.C., and to deliver tonight when we really need him, he's a great kid who has grown and matured, and he's a terrific guy."