Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Bested Michigan State Last Night

Posted by Walker Carey on December 4th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Wednesday evening’s game between Michigan State and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Jerian Grant‘s return from a semester-long academic suspension was discussed plenty in the preseason. The popular opinion was that Grant is a very good player, but would his return to the lineup be enough to help Notre Dame significantly improve from its disastrous 15-17 record a season ago? Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with Michigan State, early returns on Grant’s comeback season are very positive. The Irish came into the game having won six of their first seven, and Grant was the ACC leader in both scoring (18.4 PPG) and setting up his teammates (7.1 APG). Little did we know that the senior guard also had a career-best performance up his sleeve in Notre Dame’s thrilling 79-78 overtime victory over the Spartans. Grant tallied 27 points and dished out six assists to lead the Irish to the win. The following are three key takeaways from Wednesday evening’s action.

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Senior Season (USAT Images)

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Comeback Season (USAT Images)

  1. Notre Dame’s backcourt was tremendous. Mike Brey runs a four-guard lineup this season and it was greatly successful against Michigan State. Grant led the way with those 27 points and six assists. Sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson showed why he was a McDonald’s All-American, totaling a career-best 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The versatile Pat Connaughton chipped in 12 points with eight important rebounds, and sophomore Steve Vasturia added another 12 points. Brey is well-known for playing a short bench and that was on display again last night, as Grant played 45 minutes, Jackson and Connaughton each played 44, and Vasturia logged 42. The Irish guards also did a stellar job defensively, as Spartans point guard Travis Trice was held to just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Notre Dame can get this type of performance — or even something approximating it — from its backcourt throughout the season, the Irish are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC race.
  2. Branden Dawson was outstanding in a losing effort. The senior forward had been called out by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo after a lackluster effort in Sunday’s loss to Kansas, and Dawson responded in a big way with an impressive 16-point, 18-rebound performance. Even more impressive was the fact that nine of his 18 boards came on the offensive glass. Michigan State owned a +17 rebounding advantage for the game, and Dawson’s performance was the most important factor in that disparity. The Spartans are going to need Dawson to build on this game and become a consistent interior presence, as the Big Ten gauntlet once again figures to be quite treacherous.
  3. Austin Torres was a revelation for the Irish. The sophomore forward entered the game averaging just six minutes per night, but with news breaking just hours before the game that Notre Dame would be without sixth-man V.J. Beachem for the next month due to a foot injury, Torres took full advantage of his insertion into the rotation. His statistics (two points and four rebounds) may look fairly pedestrian, but Torres impacted the game in other ways that did not appear in the box score. He did a spectacular job in setting screens for the Notre Dame guards (see point #1) and was a key factor in the Irish keeping Michigan State off the boards at the end of regulation and into overtime. Torres entered the Irish lineup with 8:08 to play in the second half and played the duration of the game. During that time, Notre Dame held a +5 advantage on the boards. Prior to that point, the Spartans owned a +21 advantage. Wednesday night was just one game, but it appears that Brey may have found a guy who can help offset the sudden loss of Beachem.
WCarey (299 Posts)

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