Notre Dame basketball: Grant leads Irish to win in opener
SOUTH BEND - Busting out on a fast break and feeling good about his game early Friday, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant even took time to dry his hands on his gold shorts before setting his feet and waiting for his buddy to find him.
When an oncoming Eric Atkins sailed a pass across the court to an open Grant, there was no hesitation — the ball was going up and going in.
Grant scored 14 points in less than 14 minutes en route to a career-high 26 as the No. 21 Irish had to handle a whole lot of game pressure to win their season opener, 74-62, over Miami (Ohio) at Purcell Pavilion.
“The confidence goes up,” Grant said of his sizzling start in which he dropped in four early 3-pointers from nearly the same spot on the right wing. “There's no hesitation with it. Once they find me again, it's going up.”
There also was no hesitation from Atkins to get the ball to Grant, especially when the Irish were able to get a defensive stop and get running.
“When he can score in transition early, it really gets him going,” Atkins said. “That jump-started his game.
“When he gets going early, it jump-starts our team.”
Notre Dame jumped to a 10-point lead less than five minutes in. Grant's third 3, the one where he first dried his hands, allowed the Irish to open a 13-point lead with 13-plus minutes left in the first half. It was one of six assists for Atkins.
“That's what a great point guard does,” Grant said. “You know if you hit one or two, he's going to find you. You just have to be ready, and that's what I tried to do.”
The calendar may say that it's early November against an opponent that should have gone away quickly and quietly, but the game felt a whole lot like a mid-winter conference grind. The Irish had to persevere under some unexpected pressure. Up by as many as 16 and having never trailed, the home team still had to get a defensive stop, try to get a rebound, make a big shot or a key play to keep the RedHawks from feeling really confident.
When those game situations surfaced in a second half that saw Miami threaten to get closer than five points early, Notre Dame leaned on a group it will lean on a lot this season — its veteran perimeter of Grant, Atkins and junior Pat Connaughton.
When something needed to be said in a huddle or a play needed to be made on the floor, one of those three delivered. Atkins added 10 points and five rebounds, while Grant had five assists and three rebounds. Connaughton finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
“Those three perimeter guys have been through so many battles,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “They keep us poised. There was never any panic.”
All three logged midseason-like minutes. Atkins and Grant finished with 36 apiece. Connaughton played a game-high 38.
“We needed to get the first (win),” Connaughton said. “We wanted to make sure we got it and we're playing well together.”
The Irish — and especially Brey — relished the chance to be tested in their building after two lopsided exhibitions that saw Notre Dame lead by as many as 51 points. Big scoring bursts and easy buckets would not surface Friday.
“It was good,” Atkins said. “We haven't had game pressure other than practicing game situations.”
While the perimeter met their high standards, the bigs had a tough night. Fifth-year power forwards Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman each played 11 minutes in the first half, yet combined for only one rebound. Knight found firmer footing in the second half to finish with 13 points and four rebounds, but it was a rough go for Sherman. He missed his first six shots and finished with three points and four rebounds before fouling out.
Best news was he has a chance to redeem himself quickly with Sunday's game against Stetson.
“I love that it wasn't easy for us and guys didn't play as well as they wanted to,” Brey said. “Some hard stuff happened.”
Miami won the rebounding battle, 30-27.
“They really got after us on the boards,” Atkins said.
Reggie Johnson led the RedHawks with 22 points.
“It was fun to watch Reggie because he's improved,” said coach John Cooper. “Reggie played very well.”
Brey and swingman Cameron Biedscheid met the media afterward to discuss the sophomore's decision to sit out the season, preserve a year of eligibility and go on a five-year plan. A decision nearly two weeks in the making was finalized Friday.
“It was something he really had to feel good about,” Brey said. “We do have a track record here of putting guys on five-year programs.”
Nobody gave any hint of a five-year plan for the former top-30 recruit until Oct. 28 when Biedscheid did not dress for the first exhibition. What was it about Biedscheid's game that was missing (A bigger role? A starting spot? More minutes?) that allowed him to ponder a fifth year after talking on media day about such big plans this season?
“I really don't know if I would say anything was missing,” Biedscheid said. “I don't know how to answer that.”
He did answer a question on whether sitting out was a path toward an eventual transfer.
“Right now, I'm really just sticking to the five-year program,” he said. “I wasn't really thinking about leaving or anything like that.”
At Purcell Pavilion
MIAMI (OHIO) (0-1): Will Felder 5-10 1-3 13, Blacke McLimans 0-5 2-2 2, Quinten Rollins 1-3 0-0 2, Reggie Johnson 7-13 4-4 22, Jaryd Eustace 1-5 4-5 6, Geovonie McKnight 5-8 3-5 13, Will Sullivan 1-1 0-0 2, Joshua Oswald 0-1 0-0 0, Philip Bennett 0-0 0-0 0, Brian Oddo 0-0 0-0 0, John Hawkins 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 21-48 14-19 62.
NOTRE DAME (1-0): Tom Knight 5-7 3-3 13, Garrick Sherman 1-7 1-1 3, Eric Atkins 2-8 5-8 10, Jerian Grant 9-14 3-3 26, Pat Connaughton 4-8 0-0 11, V.J. Beachem 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 3-4 0-0 7, Demetrius Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Zach Auguste 1-2 0-0 2, Steve Vasturia 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-52 12-15 74.
Halftime — Notre Dame 39-32. 3-Point Goals — Miami (Ohio) 6-22 (Johnson 4-8, Felder 2-4, McKnight 0-2, Eustace 0-3, McLimans 0-5), Notre Dame 10-21 (Grant 5-8, Connaughton 3-6, Burgett 1-2, Atkins 1-5). Fouled Out — Sherman. Rebounds — Miami (Ohio) 30 (Felder 7), Notre Dame 27 (Connaughton 7). Assists — Miami (Ohio) 15 (Rollins 7), Notre Dame 21 (Atkins 6). Total Fouls — Miami (Ohio) 12, Notre Dame 17. A — 7,783.