Villanova picked the wrong night to visit Purcell Pavilion, a Wednesday evening when Notre Dame freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid unearthed his shooting stroke to push the Fighting Irish to a 65-60 victory.
Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid ignited the Irish with 18 points Wednesday against Villanova
After going 3-for-23 from the field in the previous four games, Biedscheid came off the bench and netted a team-high 18 points, including a 5-for-7 effort from behind the arc, to give the home team its second straight victory. Entering the game in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big East Conference, the Irish picked up a critical win and a lot of confidence.
It was the second straight game senior forward Tom Knight started in place of injured veteran Scott Martin (knee), who might not return this season. And after a 17-point, seven-rebound performance on the road at South Florida Saturday, Knight poured in 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots versus Villanova, which was riding a two-game win streak over Big East big boys Louisville and Syracuse.
But it was Biedscheid’s downtown revival that came in clutch for an Irish squad that improved to 17-4 overall and 5-3 in league play.
“He apologized to me after the Georgetown game, saying, ‘Coach, I’ve got to make those for us,’” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “Guys that can shoot it, I don’t want them to ever be sheepish about it or looking over their shoulder. We just told him to keep taking them if they’re good shots.
“…He is such a gamer. He just loves to play ball. He loves to compete. It was almost like, ‘I’m not going to let you down; I’ll be back.’ … This was coming.”
Villanova (13-8, 4-4) went on a 10-2 run late in the first half before a Biedscheid 3-pointer stopped the bleeding. The Irish headed to the locker room down 31-29 and the lead would ultimately change hands six times over the course of the entire game. The teams traded buckets to start the second half and were tied at 41-41 at the midway point in the second frame. Biedscheid drained another triple for a 47-43 advantage, another from deep for a 50-46 lead and fellow freshman forward Zach Auguste added back-to-back contested baskets in the pain to inflate the cushion to six points.
Knight continued to hit his mid-range mark, junior guard Jerian Grant finished off a 12-point, 10-assist knight and Cooley pulled down masculine rebounds, including a game-clinching defensive snag with 13.3 second to go, to stave off the Wildcats, which went 3-for-11 from 3-point land and 21-for-50 from the field (42 percent).
Forward Mouphtaou Yarou led Villanova with 20 points and seven rebounds.
Cooley knocked down both free throws to make it a 63-58 game, and he ended the night with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
The Irish outscored the Wildcats 22-11 in bench points, mostly all the doing of Biedscheid.
“My confidence was never low,” he said. “I always had confidence in myself even though I was missing. But it was definitely a helpful game for me to boost my confidence.”
Notre Dame finished the night 24-for-57 (42.1 percent) and 9-for-21 from behind the arc (42.9 percent).
“Cam should be able to do that for us more often than not,” Brey added. “But I’m proud of our group because, as we’ve reinvented here a little bit more physically and bigger, we’ve really embraced it. You’ve got to have good students; our guys are sharp and were able to digest what we wanted to do. They really digested the scouting report of taking away that arc and their shooters.”
Eight players saw action for Notre Dame, and Brey said the Knight-Cooley combo will be a fixture the rest of the season.
“We’re more physical,” he explained. “We fouled tonight, we knocked guys down … I don’t care. We’ve got enough guys. You foul out I’ve got another guy to throw in there. The physicality we play with on offense and defense is really helping us. I guess, again, when we’ve got two big guys in there all the time, it helps your physicality. We pressured the ball a little bit more tonight instead of a 3-point line defense. We got out and contested some. We trapped some ball screens, which is an aggressive thing. Everything is kind of attacking. I think our guys are really feeling good about that. If we make a mistake, and it’s something attacking and playing really hard, we’ll live with it.”
Notre Dame hits the road Saturday for a 2 p.m. game against DePaul.