Unable to score consistently to date this season, the Tigers surprisingly brought "The Burn" back to the Purcell Pavilion, choosing to tweak a heretofore failing offensive approach by running the shot clock down below 10 seconds prior to attempting a shot from the field. It was a tactic used late in the 2010-11 season by Brey's struggling Irish, one they rode to six consecutive victories, including three over ranked foes, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"That had to be the quickest college basketball game in history, because they're 'Burnin'" said Brey. "They're holding the ball and they're playing zone (defense). It was a unique thing to mentally play against because you're guarding the last 10 seconds of the shot clock, and then you're playing against zone (on the other end).
"I thought overall we did a pretty darn good job against that."
Notre Dame hit 16 of its 23 first half shots and 28 of 45 for the game, assisting on 21 of their 28 field goals. The Irish are now 132 of 221 from the field (59.7 percent) against four dramatically overmatched foes inside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion. (*Fast forward to the final paragraph below for the official end of the tomato can parade on the Joyce Center Floor.)
The 1-4 Tigers competed from the outset through the start of the second half largely because of a scrappy zone defense and a dramatic switch in offensive approach.
"We've been having quite a bit of problems scoring the basketball," said Grambling State head coach Shawn Walker. "We really controlled the tempo of the game. I was concerned with Notre Dame's ability to pressure the basketball. We watched them play against Providence and Coppin State and their pressure can be overwhelming. So we tried to spread the court tonight and kill the clock.
"Ultimately, what ends up happening is, the mismatches that they would have had in terms of size, we used against them."
The Tigers out-rebounded Notre Dame in the first half 18-10 including 10 boards from the offensive end. The Irish evened the end-game total at 30-29, yielding just one offensive carom in the second stanza.
The host Irish escaped from an early 10-10 tie to gain a 30-16 advantage near the nine-minute mark of the first half, extending to a comfortable 41-21 lead four minutes later. But the visitors cut the margin to 44-30 at the half and closed to within nine, 44-35 following a pair of quick steals to begin the second stanza courtesy their active matchup zone defense.
A 12-4 run highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers by Irish guards Jerian Grant and Steve Vasturia provided breathing room thereafter. Notre Dame extended to a 66-44 lead midway through the second half -- its largest lead since the 5:31 mark of the first -- and never looked back.
The 5-1 Irish were in need of a victory after dropping a last-second thriller to Providence last Sunday, 75-74 in the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic. Notre Dame led the Friars 66-58 with 5:12 remaining but fell short when Pat Connaughton's potential game-winning fadeaway was blocked by Friars standout LaDontae Henton.
"One of the things I talked to them about was defending because we weren't good defending on Sunday," said Brey. "Can we get back to defending? But they were holding the ball so it was hard to evaluate your overall D."
"We've got great leadership with Pat and Jerian," said Brey of the team's response to its first loss. "They came right back to work. We watched the last eight minutes of the Providence game. Things we did well, mistakes we made. This group has a great work ethic about it."
The Irish put four players in double figures led by Demetrius Jackson's season-high 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting including 4 for 6 from beyond the arc. Jerian Grant, who attempted just five shots added 13 points with 8 assists while Zach Auguste finished with 12. Connaughton added 10. August led the team with six rebounds but no Notre Dame player had secured more than five rebounds with 7:00 remaining in the contest in a game with little consistent pace on either end.
"There weren't as many possessions. It was a little different," said Brey. "We looked at some different attacks against zone which was good to do in a game situation."
Grambling State senior guard A'Tori Shine led all scores with 21 points on 9 of 15 from the floor. Mark Gary added 15 points and 10 boards off the bench.
The Dice ManA familiar face graced the Grambling State sidelines, at least for those familiar with the halcyon days of the Irish program.
Former Notre Dame graduate and team captain Ray "Dice" Martin is in his first year as an assistant coach with the Tigers. Brey and Walker offered a mutual admiration society post-game for the former Notre Dame point guard (1973-77).
"I feel honored to have him beside me because he very well could be the head coach and I could be his assistant," said Walker. "He's an asset to the Grambling State basketball program."
"I would call him an educator," said Brey of the backup point guard on an Irish team that famously broke UCLA's 88-game winning streak in January 1974. "There's a lot of young people in the college game through his different coaching stops that have really benefited from his relationship. He's one of the good guys in the business, he's a class act, and I think every young person that comes in touch with him.
"It was really neat there at the end, I grabbed him for the Alma Mater and he commented, 'I watch on football Sundays and when you guys play and I get a little emotional every time.'"
"It was neat to have him back. He was, a heckuva basketball player for us. And a great guard coming out of New York City. I was younger, but I knew the name 'Dice' Martin growing up in D.C."
Martin coached previously as an assistant at N.C. State where he aided Jim Valvano's famous "Survive and Advance" underdogs in their 1983 national championship. His coaching tenure includes the tutelage of standouts including Allan Houston (Tennessee) and Wally Szczerbiak (Miami, Ohio) plus a handful of former Wolf Pack stars including Thurl Bailey, Nate McMillan, Rodney Monroe, and Tom Gugliotta.
*Notre Dame will play one more relative warm-up game Saturday against Chicago State before hosting head coach Tom Izzo's No. 20 Michigan State Spartans on Dec. 3. as part of the annual ACC/Big 10 challenge.