GRANT WAS GREAT
Five for 12; two for 8; one for eight. Jerian Grant's three previous outings were hardly commensurate with his shooting talents. He was the offense's chief distributor throughout each, no doubt, but the Irish were missing a scoring punch from their all-league guard.
It returned Saturday with Grant connecting on 8 of 10 shots from the field including two of three from long range -- his first three-point baskets of the calendar year after four games and 10 misses.
"I felt like I had been in a bit of a slump so to have a game like this means a lot for me going forward," said Grant who added eight assists in 38 minutes.
The eight dimes are notable in that not all assists are created equal -- five of Grant's eight resulted in three-point buckets for Notre Dame including four in the host's decisive 18-7 run that turned a 43-34 deficit into a 52-50 lead the Irish would never relinquish.
(Two of Grant's three assists that didn't result in three-pointers led to second-half layups.)
Added to his two triples were a pair of three-point plays the old-fashioned way: to the bucket, finishing with the layup and ensuing free throw.
"Jerian's screen and cut was beautiful basketball," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of a bucket that provided a 66-60 lead. "He fade-screened somebody and cut to get the three-point play, which was a huge play."
Grant thrived in the team's no-big-man lineup, one utilized exclusively for the contest's final 15:32.
"As much as it opens up for a drive, and a drive and kick, it opens up for cuts for layups," said Brey of his game-winning quintet (Grant, Demetrius Jackson, Pat Connaughton, V.J. Beachem, and Steve Vasturia.)
Added Grant, "Offensively, nobody is going to be able to guard us with five shooters out there."
Not with Grant attacking the lane with impunity.
"The small lineup helps him because it opens the floor for him to just make a play and make a shot," Brey added. "We’ve seen him in some great rhythms here controlling the game...He gives our players confidence."
Grant rediscovered his as well.
FITTING TRIBUTE TO THE HAWK
It's no longer notable when six-foot-four-inch Pat Connaughton leads Notre Dame with double-digit rebounds. The senior sharp-shooter ranked eighth in the ACC in total rebounds (8.2); third in defensive boards (7.1, just 0.2 behind the leader) prior to Saturday's contest.
What is notable is when eight of his 11 rebounds -- 10 on the defensive end -- occur in the second half when the rallying hosts are presented with just 12 missed field goals from their foes.
Remarkably, Connaughton collected 75 percent of the available second stanza Miami caroms. It was an effort befitting of the Irish legend honored at halftime, newly-minted Ring of Honor designee, Tom Hakwins.
"It was absolutely a tribute -- he was talking yesterday about how high he could jump and how many rebounds he got," said Connaughton of the program's all-time rebounding leader (a remarkable 1,318 in three seasons). "I wanted to show him that he is not the only 6'4" guy that can jump in that gym."
The Irish have played six conference games to date. Rebounds over that stretch for Connaughton: 9, 8, 9, 8, 7, 11. (He added 14 against Purdue, 11 vs. Providence, and 8 vs. Michigan State, the three quality out of conference teams the Irish have faced.)
Notre Dame utilized it's "No Bigs" lineup for the game's final 15:32. In that span, the senior captain out-rebounded the Hurricanes seven to six.
"When you have a guy like Connaughton, who can really guard anybody and rebound against anybody, you feel you can rebound alright," said Brey.
Connaughton added the game's clinching free throws to stretch Notre Dame's lead from four to six points with 24 seconds remaining in the 75-70 Irish win.
LONG DAY'S NIGHT
Four nights ago, 5'11" Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez riddled the nation's No. 2 ranked team -- on its home court. 25 points, 5 assists, 5 steals, 4 boards, and a blocked shot in 33 minutes en route to a 90-74 humbling of Duke. To punctuate the performance, like-sized Manu Lecomte added 23 points off the bench.
Combined yesterday against Notre Dame and Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson? Seven points on 2 of 14 shooting. Rogriguez was just 1 for 10.
"He's the first guy you see in our defense. Our defense is predicated around team defense but we have guys that can defend individually as well," said Connaughton. "He loves challenges. I said 'Look, you go out there and prove yourself. All 13 guys in this locker room think you're better (than Rodriguez). You just have to go out there and have that edge, play with it.'"
Jackson did, per usual. ""He's been doing it all year," added classmate Steve Vasturia. "Pressuring the ball, getting steals. I think he really frustrated (Rodriguez) today, and he's a great player, obviously. It was a team effort, we switched a lot and forced him into tough shots."
Jackson turned up the heat in the second half, keying the outset of Notre Dame's rally with a three-pointer (to end a 2 for 16 team dry spell), a steal, as assist, and tip-in over a four-minute span.
"We know what they're capable of. They're a really good offensive team," said Jackson. "We wanted to pick our defense up as a whole in the second half and we got some stops."
Brey touched on each of his five Saturday afternoon heroes post-game, but not surprisingly, led with the trio discussed above.
"You have to look at the individual personalities. You look at our two seniors, those guys are rock-solid experienced college basketball players that have done a great job of setting the tone," he said of Connaughton and Grant. "Demetrius Jackson's mental toughness and leadership is vastly underrated with our team. He is strong (physically) and talks in timeouts and in practices. He's set a great tone for us."
One that had heretofore been missing from the program for too long.