"I'm thinking, ‘He's due.'"
Grant's seemingly ill-advised 24-foot bucket that gave the Irish a three-point lead over the host West Virginia Mountaineers was hardly a "heat check."
No, Grant had missed 13 of 16 previous shots and connected on just one of his six efforts from long range as he headed down the court with the game tied and under two minutes remaining. Then the redshirt-freshman did what he's done best over his first three formative months of college basketball.
He hunted–and drilled–the game's biggest shot.
"He does want to take big shots for us," Brey continued of his guard who hit a similar offering in January's double overtime win at Louisville. "He's made them at the end. Eric (Atkins), Jerian, and Scott (Martin) all hit big 3s in the last couple minutes."
Trailing 45-42 with 2:30 remaining and the always raucous West Virginia Coliseum rocking from its recently gained advantage, Grant's backcourt mate Atkins used a Jack Cooley screen to bury a step-back three-pointer, tying the score at 45. Less than 40 seconds later, Grant launched and landed his bomb, a 25-second spot showing on the shot-clock notwithstanding, giving Notre Dame a three-point edge.
Martin, the team's most improved player over the last month, connected thereafter on the 9-0 run's dagger – drilling a triple from nearly the same angle on the right wing as did his two teammates, one that staked the suddenly indomitable Irish to a 51-45 lead with just over 50 seconds remaining.
As they have throughout their five game winning streak, Brey's bunch closed it out from there. The Irish are now a half-game out of second place in the Big East standings – one notch less in the win column behind a Marquette team (9-3) the Irish (8-3) hammered five days prior.
Victory from the Jaws of DefeatNotre Dame's 55-51 win at West Virginia was its fourth road victory in its first six league games outside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion. Only #2 Syracuse (5-1) has fared better in Big East play away from home…the Orange's lone loss occurring in South Bend where it saw its 20-game winning streak and #1 ranking stripped in a nine-point defeat.
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the first and scoring a record-low 16 points in the opening stanza, West Virginia used an 8-0 run midway through the second to knot the score at 38.
The Mountaineers finally broke the Irish stranglehold two possessions later when Big East MVP candidate Kevin Jones buried an open corner shot from long range for a 41-40 edge; its first since lead since the 9:17 mark of the opening half.
It appeared Notre Dame's will would finally break – the end result of a cold shooting night and no-show by a pair of its recently hot starters in Grant and freshman Pat Connaughton (the latter finished without a point on just three field goal attempts).
But Atkins hit his aforementioned game-tier. Then Grant knocked down the bomb for the lead, and Martin followed suit with a cold-blooded offering that drilled the bottom of the net for a healthy six-point margin.
Game, set, match, Irish.
Numbers and Quotes to NoteJunior center Jack Cooley led all scorers with 21 points while snaring a game-high 12 rebounds. The Big East's leading scorer and rebounder Jones finished with 14 points on 15 field goal attempts to go with his requisite 12 rebounds. Jones suffered the same fate as has every other Big East player that's faced the Irish through 11 league games to date: he failed to hit the 20-point plateau, snapping a personal streak of nine straight games scoring 20 or more.
"We really defended when we had to and I thought we rebounded well enough to win, and that was a concern coming in," Brey admitted post-game.
The teams both managed 29 rebounds and shot similarly: 42.6 percent for Notre Dame vs. 41.4 percent for West Virginia.
"This group, with those two guards," Brey continued of Atkins and Grant, "And Martin is such a smart player and even Cooley is really good with the ball. This group has earned a lot of trust to feel things, and read things.
"So I let them go. I tell my assistants sometimes to shut up. Let them go."
Brey did have advice when a lead his Irish held for more than 25 consecutive minutes vanished in a Mountaineers 15-4 late-game run.
"Be poised and calm," Brey told his troops in a timeout. "We're not going to win by 15. This is going to (feature) ‘game situations' and we work on them all the time.
"We've played on the road and won four, but the three previous were (also) tough," Brey offered. "We've gotten better at being poised. Scott Martin has really worked on us being poised. He's like a player-coach."
Martin finished with 12 points on just seven field goal attempts, but it was his consistent position defense on Jones that made the biggest impact. Grant finished with 12 as well, though it took 17 shots.
Freshman guard Jabarie Hinds led West Virginia with 17 while center Denez Kilicli scored 16 points in a battle with Cooley on the low block.
West Virginia hit just two of its 16 shots from long range. Notre Dame connected on only two of its first 18 before drilling three straight to steal the victory. The Mountaineers' 16-point first half marked the lowest total allowed by Notre Dame in its 17-year Big East history.
The teams will meet again on February 22 in South Bend. Notre Dame hosts DePaul (2-9) this Saturday while West Virginia hosts Louisville.