O'Malley's Key Three

A welcomed role reversal, the greatness of Grant, and the ascent of the super sub highlight our trio of observations following Notre Dame's stunning 81-78 comeback victory over North Carolina State.

A hostile crowd. A desperate, talented foe in need of a victory. A surprising stretch of winning that staked the visiting Irish in the unfamiliar role of road heavyweight.

Welcome to your new life, Mike Brey. Welcome to the role of The Hunted.

Exacerbating Notre Dame's situation in Raleigh Sunday night was the apparent lid located snugly inside their hoop. Nothing, at least not from long range, fell for Brey's Irish in the first half -- 1 for 11 from beyond the arc, which, coupled with shoddy interior defense (help across, not up!) put the Irish in an 18-point cavern with 3:36 remaining before intermission.

The visitors -- the favorites -- did what favorites do. What legitimate top 10 teams do when faced with a deficit in hostile environs: they chipped away, notably prior to the break with a modest but crucial 8-2 run that included a buzzer-beating tip-in by Pat Connaughton to cut North Carolina State's lead to a more manageable 42-30.

As color commentator and Tobacco Road alum Brad Daugherty noted multiple times early as the Irish fell further behind in the first half, "They're getting open looks. Those will fall eventually."

They did. Notre Dame's first three second-half triples tickled the twine as did five of their first six, the latter trimming the Wolfpack's lead to one, 52-51 with nearly 14 minutes remaining.

"They had to go out and win it at that point," Brey noted of the previously rolling hosts who'd partied at the Irish expense for the game's first 20 minutes.

Game pressure. The feeling of an opportunity lost, and the stinging reality that a better, legitimate top 10 opponent was opposite them. Refusing to blink.

The above is a familiar feeling for Notre Dame's basketball program and its fans, but in 2015, the roles are reversed.

With 18:21 remaining in the second stanza, fifth-year senior guard Jerian Grant stripped Wolfpack freshman Cody Martin of the basketball. Martin then knocked the ball out of bounds, falling along the way. Dead ball, Irish ball.

Grant proceeded to slowly, and needlessly, step over his fallen foe to change ends. In doing so a clear message was sent to the youngster who had enjoyed a quality first 21 minutes:

I'm in charge.

Trash talk ensued between the two (as it should have), but Grant ended any debate, contributing 20 points to the Irish cause thereafter (17 plus an assisted triple) as well as a game-sealing blocked shot as time expired in overtime.

''The step-back is his move, so I kind of definitely sat on that and was waiting for it to come,'' Grant told reporters of Wolfpack guard Trevor Lacey, post-game.

Sunday in Raleigh, Notre Dame, as it has in every game this season, had the best basketball player on the floor, and he was not to be denied.

Irish fans that have long lamented Brey's use of his reserves will doubtless continue to crow throughout February as the starters' minutes remain steady. 30s for Vasturia and Zach Auguste; broaching the full 40 for Connaughton, Grant, and Demetrius Jackson.

But while Notre Dame's bench isn't much deeper than in season's past (it's currently a two-man crew in competitive action), it's been more than a decade -- the 2003 season, to be exact, when freshman Chris Quinn's insertion offered no discernible drop-off -- that Brey's Irish have the equivalent of six starters, not five.

Sophomore forward V.J. Beachem has arrived -- no longer a spark as much as a necessity.

It was Beachem's right-hand that forced overtime, a tip-in in traffic that tied the score at 71 with two seconds remaining. It was Beachem's ascent as an overall player, not just a spot-up shooter, that afforded him the confidence to finish with a driving bucket at the hole, providing the Irish a two-point lead with two minutes remaining that they would never relinquish.

20 minutes, 11 points, four boards, a blocked shot, a game-tying tip and a go-ahead layup. Sixth-man extraordinaire, and just one month removed from a month away from action due to a sprained foot, to boot.

Beachem has buoyed the Irish attack on both ends, lending defensive length (he's an emerging weak-side shot blocker), rebounds, and of course, an enviable long-range stroke on the catch.

Super subs have been a rarity at the program for the last 25 years. Add Beachem to the short, essential list.

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