RALEIGH, N.C. — The last time Notre Dame was in the state of North Carolina, the Fighting Irish were heading home with four straight losses.
This time they’re leaving with momentum and a solid chance to secure a double-round bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
V.J. Beachem scored 27 points and hit a career-high seven 3-pointers to help No. 25 Notre Dame beat North Carolina State 81-72 on Saturday, giving the Fighting Irish their fourth straight win to keep them in a crowded race for the top-four finish and the bye that comes with it next month in Brooklyn.
Compare that to two weeks earlier, when the Irish lost 83-76 to North Carolina in Greensboro for their fourth straight loss.
“It seems like a long time ago, I think,” said Steve Vasturia, who scored 11 points. “Obviously that took a lot from us to kind of step up and getting that first win (after the skid) was huge. And you look at us now, we’re in great position, especially with this bye week coming up.”
Notre Dame (21-7, 10-5) faced a tricky scenario, too. N.C. State was playing its first game since the announcement that coach Mark Gottfried is out after the season, adding an extra bit of emotion and the uncertainty of whether the Wolfpack would respond with a last-stand kind of effort.
As coach Mike Brey noted, the Wolfpack won at Duke last month in a sign of its potential.
“I talked to them very openly,” Brey said. “I said, `You know fellas, I think we’re going to get their Duke effort tonight. There’s no more speculation, they’ll rally a little bit I think.”
Notre Dame used a 9-0 run late in the first half to build a double-digit margin, led 41-28 by halftime then pushed it to 23 points from there. The Fighting Irish shot 50 percent and made 13 of 30 3-pointers.
Dennis Smith Jr. scored 16 points for N.C. State (14-14, 3-12), which thrice rallied within seven points late before suffering its seventh straight loss since the Duke win.
This one came two days after the school announced Gottfried won’t return for a seventh season as a once-promising season continued to unravel.
Gottfried heard a smattering of boos during pregame introductions before Wednesday’s 97-73 loss to 10th-ranked rival North Carolina. He heard only cheers Saturday, though there was a smaller crowd that included at least a half-dozen empty upstairs seating sections in PNC Arena.
Notre Dame never trailed after the opening minute, with Beachem in particular finding plenty of room to operate in comfort as the Irish built that big lead then held on late.
“They came out and it’s been a tough couple of days, no doubt about it, tough for them,” Gottfried said. “And that can go either way. But I thought they came out and showed great spirit.”
Notre Dame: Notre Dame has won four straight games to regroup from a four-game skid and keep the Fighting Irish in the hunt at the top of the league standings.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack at least fought back from the 23-point deficit to make it close, something the team hadn’t done in five other losses by at least 24 points this season.
Beachem, a 6-foot-8 senior, finished 10 for 16 from the field and made 7 of 12 3-pointers in 38 minutes.
“Honestly I love playing in this arena,” Beachem said. “This is one of my favorite arenas to play in, and the guys were finding me. Even when they went to that zone, the guys were finding me. And I was just stepping up and shooting the way Coach shows me to.”
The Fighting Irish came in leading the country in shooting at the foul line (81.6 percent). They finished just 10 of 12, but made 6 of 7 in the final minute to turn away the Wolfpack’s comeback bid.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish get an eight-day break before hosting Georgia Tech on Feb. 26.
N.C. State: N.C. State visits Georgia Tech on Tuesday.