Why Pat Connaughton Could Lead Notre Dame to the Second Weekend

Posted by Walker Carey on March 8th, 2015

Notre Dame has been one of the best stories of the year in college basketball. The Fighting Irish began the season unranked because they were coming off a disastrous season when Mike Brey‘s squad finished with a career-worst 15-17 record. The return of senior guard Jerian Grant from an academic suspension has been discussed ad nauseam but with good reason — the senior has performed at an All-America level all season long. While Grant has been spectacular, another major reason why Notre Dame has been able to improve to an impressive 26-5 mark has been the play and leadership of the team’s senior captain, swingman Pat Connaughton.

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant (USA Today Images)

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant Have Finished Strong (USA Today Images)

Connaughton arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2011 and it was not long before the Arlington, Massachusetts, product made an impact. In a season that figured to be lost following standout Tim Abromaitis’ season-ending knee injury in November, Connaughton was a key cog in the Irish’s plan to reinvent themselves. He started the final 18 games of the season as the team battled to a 22-12 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. His demonstrated toughness and durability took center stage during a sophomore season where he started every game and played the third-most minutes on a team that featured veterans Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins. The high point of that season for him came in Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime victory over eventual national champion Louisville in February. Connaughton logged a career-high 56 minutes while contributing 16 points and 14 rebounds to the winning effort. While last season was clearly a disappointment for everyone associated with the program, Connaughton took the opportunity to emerge as both a standout scorer (13.8 PPG) and rebounder (7.1 RPG).

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Three Thoughts as Syracuse Upset Notre Dame

Posted by Walker Carey on February 25th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s game between Syracuse and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Notre Dame entered Tuesday night’s game second in the nation in field goal percentage (51.3%) and fourth in turnovers committed per game (9.1). Both those figures were radically different against Syracuse last night, thought, as the Irish struggled mightily against its 2-3 zone in a surprising 65-60 home defeat. The team’s offensive struggles were evident from the opening tip, as Mike Brey‘s squad shot an ice cold 20.8 percent from the field and committed eight turnovers during the opening stanza. Irish guard Jerian Grant was so befuddled by the Syracuse zone that he was unable to even find a single shot attempt during the disastrous opening half. The Irish had a little life to open the second half to trim a five-point halftime deficit to just one, but the tide turned quickly and Syracuse pretty much coasted the rest of the way. The final offensive numbers for Notre Dame were ugly. It managed to shoot just 34.7 percent from the field, 13.6 percent from three, and committed 14 turnovers. Grant was held to just 13 points on 2-of-9 shooting and was out of rhythm throughout. The following are three thoughts from Tuesday night’s action:

Despite its best efforts, the Notre Dame faithful couldn't will its team to victory Tuesday evening against rival Syracuse. (Getty)

Despite its best efforts, the Notre Dame faithful couldn’t will its team to victory Tuesday evening against rival Syracuse. (Getty)

  1. Syracuse won this game with its defense and a big performance from B.J. Johnson. Much of the reason for the Irish’s poor shooting performance comes from how well the Orange defended against its dynamic offensive attack. The Syracuse zone pressured the shooters all evening, as the backcourt of Grant, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia combined to finish with just 21 points on 5-of-24 shooting (0-of-14 from three). The 2-3 zone was also instrumental in forcing a high number of turnovers, as Notre Dame committed five over its average last night. The Orange are not experiencing the season that they would have liked, but they exhibited in South Bend that their defense on a good night is still capable of stifling one of the nation’s best offensive attacks. Aside from the fantastic defense, Syracuse also received a terrific performance from B.J. Johnson. The sophomore guard tied a career-high with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and provided the Orange with a spark on a night where leading scorer Rakeem Christmas battled foul trouble and finished four points below his season average. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC M5: 02.24.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. WDRB: It didn’t take long for Louisville’s Chris Jones to go from indefinitely suspended to reinstated to dismissed in what felt like a blink of an eye. The details certainly aren’t pretty and they’re made worse by what we don’t know yet. According to a police report, Jones allegedly threatened to hit his on-and-off girlfriend after she “messed up his room” after he stood her up. That’s a really bad look. What we don’t know yet is the other incident that Louisville Public Safety is looking into. Hopefully Jones can get the help he needs because it will be nearly impossible to get his career back on track if he doesn’t. His absence probably spells long-term trouble for Louisville, which only managed 17 first half points against Georgia Tech before coming back to win by a single point at the end.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: More bad news out of Chapel Hill, as Andrew Carter sat down with an ailing Bill Guthridge. If you don’t recall the name, Guthridge was Dean Smith’s right hand man for 30 years before taking over the program in the three years following Smith’s retirement (1997-2000). Sadly, Guthridge’s mental health is suffering because of a serious heart condition: “I’m not up with it,” he said while trying to recall his head coaching stint. Carter writes the hell out of this story, but it’s a really tough read.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia got even more banged up when London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon smashed their heads together against Florida State (a game that’s been incredibly physical in recent years). Brogdon ended up with a pretty ugly bump while Perrantes came away with a broken nose and “concussion symptoms.” The injury also led to some rather grisly pictures of Perrantes’ bloody jersey. Virginia has struggled mightily on offense since Justin Anderson’s injury, so losing Perrantes for any extended time will only exacerbate the situation. Wake Forest has a real shot at a marquee win when the hobbled Cavaliers come to town this week (recall that the Deacs only lost by one on the road).
  4. Charleston Post and Courier: Gene Sapakoff has some pretty strong words about the state of the ACC and Brad Brownell‘s legacy. “Clemson head coach Brad Brownell in particular has an easier ACC path than Cliff Ellis or Rick Barnes had, and ought to be graded accordingly.” I agree with him that win totals are a little inflated these days, but I think that undersells the job Brownell has done with this year’s team. That said, if he keeps fielding teams with low expectations, that’s a problem of its own.
  5. Slap the Sign: Here’s a case for Mike Brey to win ACC Coach of the Year. Here are my cases for Mike Brey to come in third: Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Weirdly, the last time Coach K won this award was way back in 2000. That’s stupid (he probably should have won in 2010) and reflects the way (most of) the media votes for this award: How much does your team overachieve based on the preseason expectations that we set? The only slightly better voting dogma is to always vote for the coach of the team that wins the conference, which is inexcusable with an unbalanced round-robin schedule. If Virginia finishes with two or fewer losses or if Duke finishes with three losses, one of those two head coaches deserves the award (I would lean towards Krzyzewski, but Bennett’s case is strong too). Brey has had a great year and well exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, but that has as much to do with undervaluing Jerian Grant as it does with Brey’s coaching acumen.

EXTRA (via NJ.com): Whew boy, Roy Williams certainly let the North Carolina fan base have it. After a very cool opening four-corners set (shown below) that didn’t get enough love from the Tar Heels’ faithful, Williams lit into the crowd saying that “they were asleep most of the day anyway.” Feels like Williams almost slipped into a frustrated vulgarity, but that’ll have to wait for next time.

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 28th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Notre Dame Insider: Mike Brey calls it “downshifting” to describe when teams put in a smaller lineup to match up with Notre Dame (whose forwards are an odd combination of 6’10” and 6’5″), but that strategy will get put to a real test tonight with Duke‘s Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson scoring with such great efficiency. I’m not sure what Mike Krzyzewski calls it when Duke allows opposing guards to get to the rim undeterred, but I’m very sure that I cannot print it here. That too will get put to test this evening at the Joyce Center, thanks to Jerian Grant and a supporting cast that can shoot the ball from distance at a 40 percent clip. All I know? It should be a fun game to watch.
  2. Miami Herald: A guy who should be in the running for the ACC Most Improved Player award is Miami junior Tonye Jekiri (although it probably should go to Virginia’s Justin Anderson). Jekiri hasn’t played basketball for very long, but the seven-footer is starting to get the hang of things for the Hurricanes. He’s turned into an elite rebounder and a low usage scorer, which reminds me a little of Miles Plumlee during his senior year at Duke. Don’t be surprised if he eventually gets drafted — it’s still true that you can’t teach size.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: You wouldn’t have been alone if you had predicted North Carolina would struggle to score on Monday night against Syracuse, but you would have been wrong. Bret Strelow (with the help of Marcus Paige) took a stab at figuring out why. Paige pointed out that most of the Tar Heels’ penetration in that game came through passing into the high post. It also helped that the normally poor-shooting Tar Heels (33% on the season from three) found its jump shot (9-of-16 against the Orange). Don’t think that North Carolina’s hot shooting was just an impressive performance because Syracuse is a little undermanned this year — that was the best shooting percentage against the Orange by any team since 2012.
  4. Tomahawk Nation: I’m not the only one on the Xavier Rathan-Mayes bandwagon right now. Michael Rogner does a good job examining how the freshman has improved as the year has progressed. He’s gone from a decent, inefficient scorer to become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the ACC. There’s not much hope for this year’s Florida State team, but if he extends his range he could be the ACC’s next 20 PPG scorer.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: When will Jim Boeheim get to 1,000 wins of his own? The safe bet is 2016-17, but Michael Burke makes the case that it’s not unreasonable for him to get there next year with a little luck on his side. With a disappointing team 14-7 team this season, there’s some reason to be cautious, but with more talent coming to town and a history of success, there’s ample reason to be optimistic about his chances as well.
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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Rallies Past Miami

Posted by Walker Carey on January 17th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami (FL) and Notre Dame in South Bend.

There are very few teams in the country that have the backcourt talent and depth of Notre Dame. That was illustrated again on Saturday afternoon as Irish coach Mike Brey relied on small ball to secure a 75-70 come-from-behind victory over Miami (FL). With his team trailing 40-31 at the 15:32 mark of the second half, Brey inserted a five-guard lineup featuring seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton along with sophomores V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia. The perimeter-oriented lineup played the balance of the game and it outscored the Hurricanes 44-30 while it was on the court. Saturday’s victory concluded another successful week for the Irish, as they moved to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in ACC play. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Jerian Grant broke out of his mini-slump in impressive fashion. In each of Notre Dame’s last three games (wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and a loss to Virginia), Grant was held below his season average of 16.3 points per game. That trend changed in the victory over Miami today, as Grant was without question the best player on the floor for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with eight assists. None of those 23 points were more impressive than the three he got from hitting a ridiculous step-back three-pointer at the 6:19 mark of the second half. That three put Notre Dame up 61-58 and it did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Irish trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but it was the steadiness and leadership of Grant that kept the Irish in the game and eventually earned his team the victory. Great players make big plays in winning time, and that was exactly what Grant did for Notre Dame on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Virginia 62, #13 Notre Dame 56

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday evening’s game between Virginia and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia’s defense is as good as advertised. The Cavaliers entered play Saturday second in the country in both points per game defense and field goal percentage defense. They lived up to those high marks Saturday, as Notre Dame was held to a season-low 56 points and shot just 33.9% from the field. Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon was instrumental to the suffocating defensive effort, as he played lockdown defense on Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant all night. Grant finished the game with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Virginia also did an exceptional job in taking the Notre Dame bigs out of the game, as Notre Dame’s post players  finished with just a combined five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with just seven rebounds. The win moved Virginia to 15-0 on the season and if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity, that unbeaten mark may stay clean well into league play.
  2. The Cavaliers saved their best basketball for winning time. After Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 51-50 lead at the 4:53 mark of the second half, Virginia went on a 12-5 run to finish the game. Brogdon and fellow backcourt mate Justin Anderson each hit important three-pointers down the stretch that helped lead to the Virginia victory. In close games, the victor is usually determined by which teams executes better and plays with more poise down the stretch, and that was no different Saturday as Virginia made the right plays at the right times to help secure the win.
  3. Notre Dame needs more out of its frontline if it wants to be a factor in the ACC race. When Notre Dame won at North Carolina this past Monday night, Irish forward Zach Auguste led the way with 18 points. Saturday was a different story for Auguste, as the junior battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points and five rebounds to go along with a team-high four turnovers in 22 minutes. Virginia forward Darion Atkins was able to take advantage of Auguste’s off-night, as the senior finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to accompany his team-high eight rebounds. There are plenty of solid big men in the ACC, and if Notre Dame wants to finish near the top of the league, it is going to need Auguste to become a much more consistent post presence on each side of the court.

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Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Throttles Florida State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 14th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday night’s game between Florida State and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s 15-17 campaign from a season ago seems to be long forgotten as the Irish moved to 10-1 Saturday night with a dominating 83-63 victory over conference foe Florida State. The fact that the Seminoles feature three seven-footers on their roster did not phase the Irish frontline, as junior big man Zach Auguste turned in a career-best performance with 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Saturday night represented quite the bounce back performance for Auguste, as he struggled mightily in Notre Dame’s last game against a power conference opponent, finishing with just four points and four rebounds in December 3’s victory over Michigan State. The following are three takeaways from Saturday evening’s action.

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Zach Auguste was a monster. The majority of questions about Notre Dame entering this season were regarding the team’s inside players. Would they be good enough for the Irish to be a legitimate factor in the ACC? Well, from the looks of it in Saturday night’s first conference game, junior forward Zach Auguste is more than ready to lead the Irish frontline through the rigors of the ACC. Matched up against a Florida State front that features seven-footers Kiel Turpin, Boris Bojanovsky, and Michael Ojo, Auguste more than held his own. The junior finished with a career-best 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Auguste – along with Irish reserve forwards Martinas Geben and Austin Torres – helped limit the Florida State frontline to just eight points and 11 rebounds on the night. The ACC gauntlet will undoubtedly be arduous, but if Mike Brey and the Irish can get performances from its frontcourt like it did Saturday, the Irish may earn a reputation for having more than just a strong backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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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. Read the rest of this entry »
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