Big D the difference for Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In this case, "D" doesn't stand for "defense." Notre Dame qualified as merely passable in its overall defensive effort vs. Michigan State, allowing the Spartans to hit on 49 percent of their shots including 9 of 17 from long range.

It certainly doesn't stand for defensive rebounding. Head coach Mike Brey's group was bludgeoned on the boards to the tune of 43-26 in favor of the visitors with 18 caroms off the offensive glass -- the same number Notre Dame grabbed from the defensive end.

And it doesn't stand for dynamic distributors, not in a game in which Notre Dame's point guard played 44 minutes without an assist and the team managed just seven on 26 made field goals over the course of the evening.

No Wednesday night at the Purcell Pavilion, the most important D associated with team sports was readily apparent in Brey's now 7-1 Irish.


"I don't know if I've ever wanted a win for a team, more than I wanted this one for this group," said Brey of the gritty performance. "Because of how this group is invested. Because of how they believe, how they've been great students, how they've been coachable.

"I'm so pleased we could get this tonight and i thought we were really mentally and physically tough to do it."

The toughness came in the form of loose balls gained without regard to the accompanying floor burns incurred. It came from fighting through a 7 for 23 shooting night from beyond the arc. It was forged through battling through a combined 20 lead changes and ties, and from the unique talents of the team's best player, 5th-year senior guard Jerian Grant, in congress with blossoming sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson.

"I've said it before, I think he's a pro player, I really do," said Spartans head coach Tom Izzo of Grant. "He's a guy that is so unselfish. He doesn't force shots. He took 17 shots and you wouldn't know it. I think he's as complete a guard as we've faced thus far."

Grant dished out six of Notre Dame's seven assists while pumping in a career-best 27 points, adding three steals and four rebounds and knocking down 9 of 17 field goal attempts.

"He's an amazing guy man," said Brey. "A clutch guy. He takes some bad ones but you have to ride with him. You can't fault him because man does he want the ball (pounding desk) when his team wants to win."

Brey took both coaches' effusive post-game praise of Grant one step further.

"I love my guards man. I think I have the best backcourt in the country. Not a lot of people talk about them, but if you watched us tonight, it'd be hard to argue."

Purposeful hyperbole? Of course. But true Wednesday night nonetheless. Grant and Jackson combined to play 89 of a possible 90 minutes and scored 49 of Notre Dame's 79 points. More important, they were in consistent control of the proceedings on a night that was more down-and-dirty than structured and sanitized.

"It became like a playground, man," said Brey of the frenetic second half and overtime. "And you want to win the game and stay for 'next.' You lose and you don't play the rest of the afternoon. You're just going for stuff. There was not much semblance of defensive balance. Go get the ball."

Jackson seemed to be around the ball from the outset, scoring Notre Dame's first eight points (a moment he referred to as "cool" post-game) and winning his individual matchup against Spartans senior point guard, Travis Trice.

"For him to defend Trice (3 for 13 shooting, fouled out) the way he did, and then get 22 himself," said Brey of Jackson. "That's a heck of a night for him. But that doesn't surprise us, he's been trending that way. He's really confident and playing well and he should be even more confident after this one."

Grant, Jackson, and team captain Pat Connaughton (12 points, 8 boards, 2 steals, 2 blocks) were obvious necessities in any machination that resulted in an Irish victory. The play of redshirt-freshman Austin Torres was the unknown, and the decisive difference-maker.

"Fabulous. That's the way he's been practicing," said Brey of the Penn High School (Mishawaka, Ind.) product. "He gives us that athletic front-line guy. We've been talking about him for 10 days now, since we came back from Mohegan Sun (Arena). Because one of the things we said was, 'We should have put him on (Ladontae) Henton, when he was crushing us (38 points)."

"(Torres) understands his role," Brey continued. "Do the dirty work, screen, rebound. He gave us a physical presence on (Branden) Dawson. Dawson is a fabulous player and athletic. He was the one guy that could give a physical presence on Dawson that could really help us."

Dawson had his way inside early, scoring at will on a series on short turnaround jump shots over Connaughton and Grant. He finished with four points in the game's final 21 minutes including overtime, two of which came on a thunderous transition slam.

Torres battled the future All Big-10 performer to a stalemate thereafter, scoring just two points (on one attempt, a tip-in) while playing an instrumental role in 19 minutes.

"He 'aint going to be taking any three-point shots in practice tomorrow, I can tell you that much," Brey joked. "He' going to do the same damn thing every day. Screen, rebound, do the dirty work. He understands that."

For at least one night, the entire Irish team did as well. Top Stories