Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke begin play in the ACC tournament on Thursday. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Notre Dame pulled off a dramatic comeback against Virginia Tech on Wednesday, which just may propel the Fighting Irish into the NCAA Tournament.
A victory over No. 5 Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., should solidify Notre Dame's chances.
The Fighting Irish, who trailed by as many as 21 points, rallied to beat Virginia Tech after being down by 18 with 12:23 left. They went on a 17-3 run over a four-minute period to cut the lead to 54-50 with 7:45 to play.
Notre Dame (20-13) later went on a 14-0 run and led by seven points with 35 seconds left.
"I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a team in a game that really matters," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I've never been a big guy to campaign, but I really think we deserve to be in (the NCAA Tournament)."
The Fighting Irish scored 50 points on 12-of-21 shooting in the second half. Notre Dame knocked down seven shots from beyond the arc and went 19-of-23 from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes.
The Fighting Irish's comeback from a 13-point deficit after the first half is the third-largest halftime margin overcome in ACC tournament history.
Duke (25-6), the No. 2 seed, last played Notre Dame on Jan. 29 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils dominated the second half and won 88-66. Notre Dame was without its top two players -- senior forward Bonzie Colson and senior guard Matt Ferrell, who were each sidelined with injuries.
Ferrell led Notre Dame in scoring with 22 points against Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
"I don't want to hear about the best 68 (teams in the NCAA Tournament)," Brey said. "When I have my guys back, we're a top 20 team."
The Irish have recorded 20-plus wins in four straight seasons and 14 times during coach Mike Brey's 18-season tenure.
Duke, which earned a double-bye into Thursday, won six of its last seven regular-season games.
The Blue Devils' marked improvement on defense makes them hard to beat considering the offensive firepower of ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III and guards Grayson Allen and Wendell Carter Jr.
"Remember when you all said we couldn't play defense, but we could play offense?" Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said sarcastically in a press conference last week. "Now you're saying we can play defense, but we can't play offense. So make up your mind.
"If you take out the first three conference games, we've played as well as anybody on the defensive end in the conference. I mean, just look at, even with those three games, we're right there."
Duke must overcome the Notre Dame mystique at Barclays. The Fighting Irish are 9-2 in the arena.