NEW YORK (AP) After years of coming up short of the conference tournament title game in New York City as a member of the Big East, Notre Dame will finally get a chance to play for a championship in the Big Apple.
Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson each scored 18 points and No. 22 Notre Dame knocked off No. 16 Florida State 77-73 on Friday night to advance to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game for the second time in three years.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (25-8) will face fifth-seeded and No. 14 Duke on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, trying to make it two ACC titles in four seasons as a member of the conference.
In 18 years playing in the Big East, the Fighting Irish never did reach the tournament title game at Madison Square Garden.
“I like this building way more because my record in Barclays is way better than the Garden,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. The Fighting Irish won two NCAA Tournament games at Barclays last year and two more in November at the Legends Classic.
“We were fortunate enough to play in the semis in the Garden, we never got to the Saturday night,” Brey said. “And it was electric. I thought tonight was really good. Both arenas I think are on par. We’ll probably be in that arena someday. I don’t know if I’ll still be coaching when we get there, but we’ll be in that arena someday too.”
Notre Dame has eliminated Duke from the tournament each of the past two seasons, including a semifinal victory in 2015 on the way to the Irish’s first conference tournament championship. That team was led by a strong core of upperclassmen such as Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste. Vasturia, Colson, Matt Farrell (15 points) and VJ Beachem (six points and seven rebounds) were the young guys back then. Now they are Notre Dame’s core four.
“You know, it shows up in poise,” Brey said. “It shows up in outstanding leadership. It shows up in great stability in times of taking punches in a league like ours, which we did.”
Dwayne Bacon led Florida State (25-8) with 18 points.
The Irish and Seminoles had a tough act to follow after Duke and North Carolina had the sellout crowd of 18,109 rocking in Brooklyn.
Many fans dressed in blue bailed on the nightcap. Not New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was back at Barclays for a second straight night, sitting behind the Notre Dame bench rooting on his buddy, Brey.
Notre Dame eliminated most of the drama with a 23-8 run to end the first half that put the Irish up 42-26.
Florida State whittled the lead down thanks to Braian Angola-Rodas, who scored 14 of the Seminoles’ 15 points in one stretch, including a 3-pointer that made it 63-55 with 8:23 left in the second half.
A driving hoop by Vasturia and a hustle putback by Colson nudged the lead back to 12 a little more than a minute later.
“I think we just kind of combated every run that they made,” Vasturia said.
The Irish went 13 for 27 from 3.
“They moved the ball around and executed their offense to perfection, and they knocked down some shots that we just couldn’t get to,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Notre Dame: The Irish have thrived with their small lineup, featuring the 6-foot-5 Colson at center. It puts shooters everywhere on the floor and presents matchup problems for bigger teams – such as Florida State. The Irish forced 18 turnovers to help overcome getting outrebounded 41-23 by the Seminoles.
“We’re bigger, but it was hard to take advantage of our size because they went so small,” Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac said.
Florida State: Even though Florida State held a rebounding edge, it didn’t do enough damage on the offensive boards. After getting 18 offensive rebounds against Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals, Florida State had nine against the Irish for only eight second-chance points.
Florida State and Notre Dame have met eight times on the football field, with the Seminoles winning six. In basketball, this was the seventh meeting, third this season. The Seminoles and Fighting Irish split the first two.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish lost their only meeting with Duke this season, but Brey is 5-3 in his career against his former boss, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, while at Notre Dame.
Florida State: The Seminoles will wait for Selection Sunday to find out their next opponent. They’ll probably be a 3 seed.
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