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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey described the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish's 63-55 victory over Saint Peter's on Wednesday night as a "grind."
The Irish managed to close out their non-conference schedule with the less than impressive win thanks to V.J. Beachem's 18 points.
The focus now turns to Atlantic Coast Conference play.
"Now we're in a fist fight for two-and-a-half months," Brey said.
The Irish head to Pittsburgh on Saturday for a game that could look much different than the slow-paced matchup with Saint Peter's
Steve Vasturia added 11 points for the Irish (11-2), who were looking for a more complete effort, but were outscored in the second half for the fifth straight game.
The Irish finished 22 points below their average of 85.3, but held the Peacocks to 35.7 percent shooting from the field.
"They're hard to play against because you're guarding for 25 seconds on every possession," Brey said. "One of the reasons we scheduled them is, it's very Virginia-like on both ends of the floor."
In his first start of the season, Nick Griffin led Saint Peters (5-7) with 16 points.
Notre Dame came in leading the nation in turnovers at 8.8 per game, but committed 14 for the second straight game.
"We got the win, even though it was an ugly win," said Bonzie Colson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "These games definitely prepare us for the ACC."
Consecutive 3-pointers by Vasturia and Matt Farrell to open the second half helped Notre Dame extend its lead to 18 points. But the Irish missed their next 10 shots from deep, and Griffin's 3 with 5 minutes left cut the lead to nine.
"I thought our energy for 40 minutes was very good," Saint Peter's coach John Dunne said. "We needed to make more shots, but our effort was really good."
A flagrant foul on Trevis Wyche with 4:05 left sent Farrell to the free throw line, but he missed the first one, snapping a streak of 31 consecutive makes for the Irish guard dating to last season.
Colson scored in the lane on the ensuing possession, pushing Notre Dame's lead back to 12 with 3:50 to play, and the Irish held on from there.
"I think it will be a reference point game for us," Brey said. "You couldn't get away, it's exhausting playing defense, and it affects your offense, but this was good."
Saint Peter's: Already with two MAAC games in hand (1-1), the Peacocks closed out their non-conference slate against Notre Dame. Saint Peter's was picked to finish fourth in the conference.
Notre Dame: After finishing the first semester with a collective 3.1 GPA, the Irish have no school requirements for the next three weeks and can focus solely on basketball as they begin their ACC schedule.
Before Farrell's free throw shooting streak ended, the biggest surprise of the first half came with 54 seconds left when Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger committed his first turnover of the season, ending a run of 217 minutes without a miscue.
"We got all the streaks out before Saturday," Brey said, then joked, "I should probably take Pflueger's scholarship, he threw two away."
The Irish moved up one spot to No. 24 on Monday after a 15-point home win over Colgate last week. They'll face an early ACC test next week when they host No. 6 Louisville on Jan. 4.
Saint Peter's: The Peacocks return home for a MAAC matchup against league-leading Monmouth.
Notre Dame: The Irish kick off ACC play Saturday with their first true road game of the season at Pittsburgh.
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