The Shot-Maker

Junior guard Jerian Grant leads head coach Mike Brey's Irish in shots taken -- and created. Its the latter skill that will help determine the team's fate heading into the season's final three contests and tournament play.

Its not often a compliment to note of a basketball player, "He's never met a shot he didn't like."

But for Irish combo guard Jerian Grant, he of the impossible leaping three-pointers and oft off-balance offerings, its both complimentary and wholly necessary, at least if the Irish are to continue to improve through tournament play.

Grant not only takes more shots, but creates more shots and opportunities for his teammates than any other member of the Irish.

In fact, he's welcomed to take a few more.

"I think he turns down good shots and makes them a little harder than he has to," said Brey of the team's second leading scorer and assist man. "I don't want to overanalyze that with him because he makes tough shots too. But I think if he just takes the first one, I think that's still a work in progress. Getting him to take the first open shot."

Once the first shot is forsaken, Grant is often saddled with the last available shot -- he's the player with the ball in his hands when the shot-clock winds down. He's the guy -- maybe the only Irish player at present -- that can beat his man off the dribble both going to the rim and creating separation for a jump shot.

He's also the one learning to play better without the ball.

"With our two big guys (Jack Cooley and Tom Knight), we've changed the offense so I'm still getting used to them coming to screen for me and catching and shooting," said Grant of the team's late-season, successful approach that also employs the backup 6'10" tandem of Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste. "There's a lot of ball screens, curling off the for jump shots. Guys screening for me is different.

"Moving without the ball is an adjustment for me."

Hitting contested shots, is not. Grant famously showcased that rare skill in a dramatic 29-second, 12-point explosion vs. Louisville to force overtime in an epic Irish win. He likewise did so throughout his first season of competition in 2011-12 when as a redshirt-freshman, Grant became the late-game, and late-clock shot taker for an Irish squad that won a stunning nine straight in conference play.

Now winners of seven of nine to cement a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Grant's next step is to add a few "gimmes" to his vast array of "oh my's."

"He's gotten more stuff where he comes off that baseline entry," said Brey of Grant in the new offense. "He's a bit of a stander sometimes. That was one thing, that he wouldn't move without it. But with the two bigs, knowing he can run them off stuff, he's gotten better moving without it."

Not exactly slumping with a combined 87 points and 33 assists in his last six outings, Grant's nonetheless had issues with accuracy, hitting just eight of his last 33 from the field including three of 17 shots from beyond the arc. Most still include a hand in his face.

Grant has though offset those errant offerings with a team-best 49 free throw attempts over the last seven games.

"Its something I hadn't done early in the season, but getting (to the charity stripe) helps my game," Grant admitted. "Knocking down free throws calms everything down."

He hit nine of nine vs. Cincinnati in the team's most recent win, 22 of his previous 27 for an 86 percent clip over the last six outings including 11 straight (after previously hitting 18 straight during the season).

All part of the recent reinvention of the Irish attack.

"We're still getting better and adjusting to two big guys, that's what's exciting as the season winds down," said Grant. "You can see we're tougher. We're rebounding more, we're screening more. We're going into the post more. Its really exciting for me to have two big guys on the floor with us."

The end result is protecting leads late, with Grant and teammate Eric Atkins the only ball-handlers capable of 94 feet of action -- and the only players likely to create off the dribble for an offense that prides itself on the assisted bucket.

"What they've learned in the half court is there is a big body coming to screen to get them open," said Brey of his guard tandem. "Jerian has become better moving without the ball because of it. He knows there's two guys that are going to really set screens and that's the role we've set up."

His other role -- that of the tough shot-taker and maker -- is set in stone.

"I feel like I can be the guy to take a tough shot," said the player Brey called 'a bright lights guy.' "You're not always going to get the best look. You're going to need that guy on a team that can create a look and hit a tough shot."

With a few more easy ones intermixed. Top Stories