WASHINGTON, D.C. — With 11 minutes left in Thursday’s second ACC tournament quarterfinal, No. 19 Duke was up 64-48 and getting ready to throw it in neutral, coasting their way to a Friday night semifinal matchup with Tobacco Road rival North Carolina.
“I’m thinking, ‘Ok, how do I sell this? We’re going to get some rest, we’re be ready of Selection Sunday,'” head coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Then we get a couple stops and the whole atmosphere changes.”
Spurred on by three V.J. Beachem threes in the final seven minutes — including a three that tied the game at 70 and forced overtime — as the Irish closed the second half on a 22-6 surge.
After two free throws from Steve Vasturia put the Irish ahead in the first possession of the extra frame, another Beachem three pushed the lead to five and the under-manned Blue Devils simply did not have the legs to scrap for a comeback.
It was the fifth time in six games that Brey’s program beat Duke. He remains the only one of Coach K’s former assistants to ever beat him, winning 21 games against the rest of his coaching tree.
“Even though we beat them this year in their building, I don’t think anyone gives us much of a chance,” Brey said. “But you think about the nucleus of guys here, all they’ve known is beating them. We’ve created an interesting scenario. If we don’t beat them today and make it five out of six, my fans are going to be upset. ‘What happened? We’re supposed to do this all the time?’ I’ve created a monster. I wonder if I’ve got to leave after this year.”
“This one will be one of the great memories.”
Part of Brey’s success against his former boss comes from knowing what Coach K does, but the bigger motivator, according to Brey, is that his team is tired of being “stepchildren”. They’re a basketball team at a football school. They were the new guys in the Big East before leaving to become the new guys in the ACC. The program always believes they have something to prove, and there’s no better way to prove you belong than by beating the Blue Devils.
Winning five out of six is icing on the cake.
On Thursday, Zach Auguste led the way with 19 points and 22 boards for the Irish. Beachem chipped in with 19 points of his own and Bonzie Colson added 12 points and 12 boards, but it was Auguste’s presence in the interior that not only wore down Duke’s front line, he literally got Marshall Plumlee out of the game; Duke’s starting center had three fouls in the first half and fouled out midway through the second half.
“Zach Auguste is playing as good as anybody in the country,” Brey said. “Then with the energy and emotion and a little bit of crazy [stuff] that he plays with, that is really good because he scares the other team and he scares his teammates into playing hard. I love his venom and energy and flying all over the place.”
The cause for Duke’s late-game collapse is going to pinned on their legs. The Blue Devils play, essentially, a six man rotation, and when you’re on the second day of a back-to-back, legs are always going to be a factor. Anyone watching could see that the Blue Devils were gassed.
But Notre Dame was gassed, too.
They only played seven guys, and their starters averaged more than 40 minutes on Thursday. Legs was an issue. It will be an issue tomorrow night as well, when the Irish square off with a deeper, bigger and more physical North Carolina team.
Brey isn’t worried, however.
In fact, if anything, he was more nervous about Thursday’s game.
“I was a little more tight before this game because I got so much family here, they’re wearing me out,” Brey, a native of Washington D.C., said. “I love them, but I’m looking at them before the game, they’re sitting across from me. ‘Don’t let them down, they came all the way here. Let them party at least one more night.'”
“They’re going to get to have fun and go to at least one more game.”