Notre Dame basketball: Knight has hot hand in Irish romp

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Back to offer some bounce after nursing a sore back earlier in the week, Notre Dame fifth-year senior power forward Tom Knight had something to say to just about everyone Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

He chatted up a Tusculum player who battled him for a rebound, and another who took -- and missed -- a baseline jumper. He voiced displeasure when whistled for an early foul and was quick to shout a teammate into the proper defensive set. He continued to talk when on the bench.

Knight allowed his offensive game to have the loudest say early in a lopsided game. The left-hander connected on his first six shots for 12 points in under 12 minutes as No. 21 Notre Dame rolled to a 93-44 exhibition victory over the Division-II school from Tennessee.

"It was good," Knight said of his return. "I started off well, hit my first couple of baskets. It was fun. I definitely love the guys, the pieces we have on this team."

Notre Dame never trailed and led by as many as 51 following a Demetrius Jackson dunk in the closing minute. The Irish led by at least 31 over the final 19 minutes.

Scoring double figures remains somewhat foreign territory for someone who's been around the Irish basketball program the longest. Last season, his first as a main guy, Knight hit for at least 10 points only five times while averaging 5.5 points.

As a main/quick option in transition Friday, he passed that average the first 4:11 while delivering the first three Irish baskets in a half where the home team never trailed.

Knight opened the second half with a dunk to go 7-for-7 before finally missing on a fadeaway jumper following a steal. He finished 7-of-9 from the field for 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes.

"It's just nice the guys on the court trust me to make a great offensive decision," Knight said. "I prepare well for it, try to take game-ready shots. A little more pressure, but I love it."

So does Irish coach Mike Brey.

"Tom's a bouncy guy," he said. "He needed that tonight. It was good to have him out there sweating."

Back spasms forced Knight to sit out the exhibition opener Monday, a 95-69 victory over another Division II team, Indianapolis. Having to juggle the rotation with so many guys in street clothes, the Irish worked Friday with a little more semblance of what everything should look like in the regular season.

The starting five Friday was the group expected to open the season -- Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant at guard, Pat Connaughton at the guard-forward spot and Knight and Garrick Sherman at power forward. That gave Brey five underclassmen -- four freshmen and a sophomore -- off the bench.

"There will be nights when the bench is shorter, but there will be nights when you can go to nine guys and feel good about it," Brey said.

The Irish went eight deep the first 20 minutes with seven players scoring. Sophomore Austin Burgett and Jackson were the first two Irish into the game in each half.

Atkins scored a game-high 21 points. Sherman delivered 12 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.

Quiet much of the first half -- he had zero points the first 18 minutes -- Atkins did his best impersonation of Grant from last season's Louisville game by scoring a whole lot in a short time. Atkins erupted for 10 points in 82 seconds to balloon the Irish lead to 47-18 at the break.

An Atkins 3 in the second half stretched the Irish lead to 65-23 and gave him 17 points in a quick run of 7:34.

"That's pretty good," Atkins said. "Early on, they guarded me pretty well, so it's not that I was looking to pass. I was letting the game come to me.

"After I hit one 3, it felt really good and I wanted to get on a roll after that."

At one point deep in the first half, Atkins and Grant were a combined 0-for-1 from the field, but it mattered little.

Neal Spinks led Tusculum with 13 points. The Irish finished with 16 steals, forced 22 turnovers and 44 points in the paint.

Notre Dame played without three players -- sophomore power forwards Zach Auguste (broken left hand) and Eric Katenda (right knee surgery) and swingman Cameron Biedscheid, who again watched in street clothes from the end of the bench.

Biedscheid, who was a main reserve last season, may sit out the season to preserve a year of eligibility.

Biedscheid and his mother discussed the situation Friday with Brey. A decision should come next week.

"They want to think about it over the weekend," Brey said. "I think they see some really good points. And they see some points where he may want to play this year.

"It's gotta be his decision. It's gotta be something he feels good about."

Notre Dame opens the regular season Friday at home against Miami (Ohio).

Friday was one of five games the Irish play this season that tip at 9 p.m. or later. It was a busy evening for Brey, who found time to swing by the Irish football pep rally at Compton Ice Center. There he worked the crowd into a lather while dressed as Jackie Moon, a Will Farrell character from the movie, "Semi-Pro."

"I had to do it," he said.

Brey traded in his orange wig and tank top a suit and dress shirt -- no more mock turtleneck -- prior to Friday's tip.

At Purcell Pavilion

TUSCULUM (44): Matt Shown 2 2-2 6; Neal Spinks 6 1-2 13; Jalen Walker 3 2-2 9; Addison Flynn 1 0-0 3; BJ Fisher 1 0-0 2; Keith Jumper 0 0-0 0; Darius Carter 0 2-2 2; Cory Fagan 2 0-0 5; Chase Mounce 1 2-2 4; Zach Davis 0 0-0 0; Martin Jorgensen 0 0-0 0; JD Miller 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 16 9-10 44.

NOTRE DAME (93): Tom Knight 7 0-0 14; Garrick Sherman 4 4-4 12; Eric Atkins 9 0-0 21; Jerian Grant 1 3-4 6; Pat Connaughton 4 3-4 14; V.J. Beachem 2 3-4 7; Pat Crowley 0 0-0 0; Austin Burgett 2 0-0 4; Demetrius Jackson 3 3-4 10; Steve Vasturia 1 0-0 2; Austin Torres 1 1-2 3. TOTALS: 34 17-22 93.

Halftime: Notre Dame 47, Tusculum 18. Field-goal shooting: Tusculum 16-for-67 (23.9 percent); Notre Dame 34-for-63 (54 percent). 3-point percentage: Tusculum 3-for-20 (15 percent); Notre Dame 8-for-19 (42.1 percent). Free throws: Tusculum 9-for-10 (90 percent); Notre Dame 17-for-22 (77.3 percent). Rebounds: Tusculum 37 (Spinks 7); Notre Dame 46 (Sherman 13). Assists: Tusculum 8 (Walker 4); Notre Dame 24 (Grant 5). Turnovers: Tusculum 22; Notre Dame 12. Total fouls (fouled out); Tusculum 17 (none); Notre Dame 9 (none).

Attendance: 8,134.

Officials: Gary Maxwell, Lamar Simpson, Sean Hull.


Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Eric Atkins, right, reaches in as Tusculum's BJ Fisher recovers a loose ball during the men's basketball game on Friday, November 1, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN