Blacksburg, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The eighth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish begin a two-game road trip on Thursday evening, as the take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in ACC action at the Cassell Coliseum.
Mike Brey's Irish are one of the top teams in the ACC, sporting a 17-2 overall record, including a 5-1 league ledger. The start is the program's best since the 1978-79 campaign (also 17-2). Notre Dame has won two straight and 12 of its last 13 games. The team's two losses this year have both come by one point, a 75-74 loss at Providence on Nov. 23, and a 71-70 loss at North Carolina on Jan. 5. Most recently, the team posted a come-from-behind, 75-70 win over Miami-Florida last weekend.
Buzz Williams' first season in Blacksburg has come with mixed reviews thus far. The team is just 8-9 on the season thanks to five straight losses. The Hokies are still seeking their first ACC win of the season. A 68-53 loss at North Carolina on Sunday dropped the team to 0-4 in league play. It has been quite the gauntlet for Tech recently, as Notre Dame represents the third straight ranked foe on the docket. The set will conclude with a fourth ranked foe this coming Sunday as the team hosts No. 2 Virginia.
Notre Dame has won four of the five all-time meetings in this series, with the four wins coming in the last four matchups.
The Irish trailed Miami, 43-31 with just over 15 minutes remaining in the game, but responded with a 21-7 run to take a lead just under the 10-minute mark. Notre Dame remained in front the rest of the way in picking up its 17th win of the season. Five players notched double figures in the victory, led by Jerian Grant's 23 points. V.J. Beachem added 13 points, followed by Steve Vasturia (11 pts), Pat Connaughton (10 pts) and Demetrius Jackson (10 pts).
The Irish are still a lethal offensive squad, despite the recent absence of Zach Auguste (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg). A key contributor this season, Auguste has missed the last couple of games due to academic issues. He is ruled out indefinitely. While most teams would miss a player of Auguste's ability, the Irish have been able to assuage the loss thanks to great depth. Grant is one of the nation's premier guards and currently leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg) and the ACC in assists (6.4 apg). Connaughton has been superb as well, posting 13.8 points and a team-best 8.3 rebounds per game. Jackson is equally adept at filling up the basket at 13.6 ppg. On the season, the Irish are averaging 81.7 ppg on a hefty .528 shooting (second nationally).
The Hokies are coming off their lowest scoring output of the 2015 calendar year, as the team struggled at Chapel Hill last weekend against the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech trailed 34-21 at the break and was unable to make up ground in the second half. Overall, Tech shot a rather ugly .358 from the field and was abused on the boards, getting outrebounded 49-22. Adam Smith led the team in defeat, coming off the bench to score 11 points. Shane Henry was the only other Hokie in double figures, finishing with 10 points. The team was without freshman star Justin Bibbs, who missed the game due to concussion-like symptoms.
Virginia Tech is far from an offensive juggernaut at 68.1 ppg, but the team does shoot an efficient 46.3 percent from the field overall, which includes nearly 40 percent from behind the arc (.399). Bibbs is the top scoring threat on the roster at 13.6 ppg. The 6-foot-5 freshman is shooting just over 50 percent from the floor, including an impressive 47.5 percent from 3-point range. However, Bibbs' status for this game is up in the air, as he continues through concussion protocol. Smith is the only other player with a double- digit scoring average at 12.9 ppg. The team suspended Joey van Zegeren (9.8 ppg) indefinitely, further depleting the roster heading into this game.