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Replay: Fitting Finale for Irish Seniors

March 2, 2017

By John Heisler

Irish men’s basketball veterans V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia apparently have nothing on Patrick Mazza.

At least that seemed to be the crazy sense of things late on Wednesday night against Boston College—especially for Notre Dame students who loved everything about the final 1:09 that featured a resounding dunk, a rebound, a blocked shot and a turnover for Mazza, the 6-10 Irish graduate student and walk-on from Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

All that comprised Mazza’s fourth game appearance of 2016-17 and first since early December.

Meanwhile, Beachem led the Irish men’s basketball team with 22 points on eight-of-17 shooting (four of 10 from long distance)--and Vasturia parlayed his usual all-around game (10 points, five rebounds, three assists and a pair of three-pointers) into an 82-66 victory over the visiting Eagles to close out the home portion of Notre Dame’s schedule at Purcell Pavilion.

Those two seniors, playing for the last time in front of the home fans, earned multiple ovations and video tributes.

Junior Bonzie Colson threw in his typical 18 points and 11 rebounds for good measure.

Meanwhile, those students by now likely are long since finished texting Irish coach Mike Brey—wondering why Mazza did not earn more minutes this winter.

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The Irish have plenty to play for yet in March. With one contest remaining in the regular season, they stand only a game behind Atlantic Coast Conference front-runner North Carolina—with Notre Dame headed for a Saturday afternoon date at Louisville.

But Brey first wanted to make sure his Irish remembered how defense made the difference in a home win Sunday when Georgia Tech was held to 60 points—as well as in the second half two weeks ago in Chestnut Hill where Notre Dame tightened things up after intermission to win over the Eagles by eight after permitting 50 first-half points.

 

 

“Let’s play our defense for 40 minutes against these guys,” Brey suggested to his team before the contest began. “No transition—we are getting back and making them play against our set defense.”

“We gotta come out with a lot more energy than the last time we played these guys,” suggested one player in the locker room.

The visitors held the lead for more than 14 minutes in the first half thanks to good ball movement and solid shooting.

It was more than fitting that a Beachem three gave Notre Dame its first advantage at 28-26 at 3:46 and Vasturia followed with a three of his own 69 seconds later.

Notre Dame scored 15 straight points and the Eagles didn’t change their side of the board for more than six minutes.

The Irish led by only eight at half—but after Boston College missed 12 of its last 16 shots of the first half, it appeared regaining any sort of momentum would be a tall order for Jim Christian’s Eagles.

“We did it with our defense, and I love how we are attacking off the drive. Let’s start the half digging in and guarding. We’re doing a great job getting deflections,” Brey said at the break.

The Eagles hit a pair of threes to cut the margin to 48-42, but consecutive three-pointers by Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger turned it into a 16-point game at 63-47 with 11:31 left.

The Irish basically coasted from there, with Vasturia’s three pushing the lead to its largest point at 76-56.

There were hugs all around when Vasturia and Beachem departed at the 1:34 stoppage—just before Mazza put on his show.

The players stood arm in arm to watch one final video tribute to the seniors and then all three spoke—as Brey stood to the side with arms crossed, like a proud papa.

Beachem described his teammates as “true blood brothers.”

Vasturia said, “It’s an honor to represent this University and put on this jersey.”

Then Brey cued the alma mater.

In the locker room, the Irish coach eschewed his normal postgame routine with Matt Gregory to do a leap and hip bump with Mazza—to more big smiles and laughs from the players.

“What a way to send our seniors out,” Brey told his group. “Our defense was key for us again. We handled our business at home tonight and we did a great job of that all year going 16-2 here.”

Early in February the Irish found themselves mired in a four-game losing streak. Less then a month later they’ve won six in a row.

March has been fun for the Irish the last two years.

Brey is hoping that, as his team walked off its home hardwood for the final time, there remain more green pastures ahead.

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com.

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