NOTRE DAME — Notre Dame won a game it desperately needed against Virginia Tech, especially on a night when it was honoring former coach Digger Phelps.
The Fighting Irish had lost three straight league games after an upset win over Duke and were in danger of falling into their longest losing streak in five seasons, so a 70-63 victory over Virginia Tech on Sunday night came as a relief.
“We needed it. My nickname should be `Must Win Mike,’ because I’ve been in a lot of these must wins,” coach Mike Brey said.
Brey said that was especially true because the Irish (11-7, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) didn’t want to lose on a night when Phelps was being inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor. The Irish did it Sunday because it was the 40th anniversary of the game when Phelps’ second-ranked Notre Dame squad beat UCLA 71-70 to end the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak.
Brey admitted that put pressure on his squad.
“You do feel like, `We can’t blow this one, can we?”’ he said. “So it did put extra heat on it.”
Pat Connaughton helped make sure of that, leading the Irish with 21 points and eight rebounds.
“Being 1-3 in the league is something where you’ve got to dig down deep and you’ve got to get a win, no matter how you do it, no matter how much it’s by, no matter how ugly it is, you’ve got to get a win,” Connaughton said.
The Hokies (8-9, 1-4) lost their fourth straight and for the sixth time in seven tries, but played better offensively than they had in recent games. The 63-points marked just the second time in the past seven games the Hokies broke the 60-point mark, and they shot 52 percent for the game — their best shooting game since early December. But they couldn’t overcome 17 turnovers.
“We just turned the ball over a little too much,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said.
The Hokies, who trailed by 15 at halftime, cut the lead to 53-51 when Devin Wilson hit a 3-pointer and followed that up with a free throw. But the Irish responded quickly with a pair of 3-pointers by Connaughton and Steve Vasturia.
The Hokies closed to 68-63 with 20 seconds left on a free throw by Cadarian Raines, but couldn’t get any closer.
Raines and Wilson both had career-high 20 points for the Hokies.
“I kept a positive attitude and I never got cold tonight,” Raines said. “I went out there and played ball.”
Leading scorer Jarell Eddie struggled for the Hokies for the second straight game, finishing with two points on 1-of-5 shooting. He was 1-of-6 shooting for three points in a loss to Clemson on Wednesday. Eddie didn’t start for the first time this season as Johnson tried to settle him down.
“It’s just not going down for him right now,” Johnson said.
Demetrius Jackson scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, matching a season-high, but was 0-of-4 from the floor in the second half. Eric Atkins added 12 points for the Irish, marking the seventh straight game that he scored in double figures. Garrick Sherman finished with eight points, ending a streak of 14 straight games scoring in double figures.
The Irish managed to win despite being outshot 52 percent to 41 percent, outrebounded 35-30, outscored in the paint 36-28 and the Hokies’ bench outscored the Irish reserves 27-14, mainly because the Irish were 9-of-28 from 3-point range while the Hokies were 4-of-11.
“It’s a good, matter-of-fact win. We did some good stuff,” Brey said.
More than two dozen of Phelps’ former players attended the game Sunday to see their coach become the fourth person associated with the men’s team to be inducted into the university’s Ring of Honor, joining former players Luke Harangody, Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley. Phelps led Notre Dame to a 393-197 record in his 20 seasons as coach from 1971 through 1991.