Irish offense feeds off ‘balanced diet’

When Jerian Grant has led the Irish in scoring this season, they are 13-1 overall and 9-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. For the fourth time in five seasons, the Irish will have a player pacing the squad in scoring and assists. Grant did it in 2012-13, too.

Pick a star, any star. He just may emerge in the next game for No. 10 Notre Dame (24-4, 12-3), which extended its winning streak to three games Saturday with a resounding 87-70 victory over Boston College.

In 15 ACC games, the Irish have had six different players pace the team in scoring, emphasizing once again what a balanced, across-the-board offense Mike Brey has developed in his 15th season at Notre Dame.

Leading the way is ACC and national player of the year candidate Jerian Grant, who has paced Notre Dame in scoring 14 times this season, including nine of 15 conference tilts.

But Grant piles up assists in bunches, too, particularly in the last two games when he handed out 10 against Wake Forest and 11 versus Boston College, raising his season total to 183 (6.5 per game).

With a minimum of five games remaining (three regular season plus the ACC/NCAA tournaments), Grant should easily surpass the 200-assist total. That would make him the first Notre Dame player since Chris Thomas in 2002-03 to record 200-plus assists in a season.

And therein lies the secret to Notre Dame’s balanced scoring. Yes, Grant can go for 20-plus points on any given night. He could score 30 frequently if he wanted to, but he averages an efficient 11.5 shots per game. Constantly seeking and probing to find ways for a higher percentage shot, Grant is a teammate’s best friend on the offensive end.

That’s one reason why freshman Bonzie Colson became Notre Dame’s sixth player since ACC play began to pace the Irish in scoring. His 16 points off the bench on 8-of-9 shooting was instrumental in the Irish pulling away from the Eagles Saturday to notch their sixth conference road victory, which is a Notre Dame single-season record since giving up its independence in 1995.

Surprisingly, Pat Connaughton has led the Irish in scoring just three times overall this season and just once – in the loss to Virginia – in ACC play. Connaughton has been able to focus more on rebounding and defense in 2014-15 because of the offensive balance. (Connaughton averages just 9.6 shots per game.)

Four players – Grant (17.0), Connaughton (13.1), Zach Auguste 12.7 and Demetrius Jackson (12.5) – all average well into double-figure scoring, and Steve Vasturia is right on the cusp at 9.4. The scoring numbers in ACC play are very similar – about one point less per player -- except for Vasturia, who is a tick higher in conference play at 9.7.

Vasturia has led the team in scoring three times this season, twice in ACC play (Boston College at home with Grant, and at Duke). Auguste has led the Irish in scoring six times this year, twice in ACC play (Florida State and at North Carolina). Jackson – who will have to score more next year as Grant and Connaughton depart – paced the Irish in their loss at Pittsburgh.

Sophomore sharpshooter V.J. Beachem has not led the team in scoring this season. But he’s now scored 10 points in back-to-back games and has been in double-figures nine times, six of which have come in conference play.

In 15 conference games, the Irish have had at least four players in double-figure scoring 10 times, with a conference-high six Saturday at Boston College after placing five in double figures Tuesday night against Wake Forest.

It’s interesting to note that as dynamic of a passer as Grant is, Notre Dame has won 13-out-of-14 games when Grant has paced the Irish in scoring with the one-point loss to Providence the exception. Notre Dame is 9-0 in ACC play when Grant leads the way in scoring.

For the fourth time in five years, Notre Dame’s leading scorer is also going to be the team’s top assist man. Grant follows on the heels of Eric Atkins (13.9 points, 156 assists) in 2013-14. In 2012-13, Grant led the team in scoring (13.3 ppg.) and assists (194). In 2010-11, Ben Hansbrough averaged 18.4 points per game while handing out 145 assists.

Notre Dame’s 88 points against Wake Forest earlier in the week and the 87 against Boston College Saturday ended a streak of five games below 80. Notre Dame has scored at least 80 points in six ACC games this year. The next closest teams are Duke (4) and North Carolina (4).

A team can’t score as consistently as Notre Dame does without balance, which is created by Grant’s otherworldly play-making skills and scoring prowess across the board in Notre Dame’s seven-man rotation.


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