Notre Dame men's basketball: Going small boosts Irish

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Thirty minutes of game work following five long days to stew over a home setback had done little to deliver the desired result for the Notre Dame men's basketball team Friday at home against Santa Clara.

Needing to do something different and see it work well after Sunday's lackluster loss to Indiana State, Notre Dame may have discovered a combination that it can count on moving forward.

The Irish rode the work of four guards working around a non-traditional power forward who owns guard-like skills for a key second-half stretch that busted open a close contest and gave the home team a much-needed confidence boost with a 84-69 victory.

“Everybody feels like they a have a lot of space to basically do whatever they want,” senior co-captain Eric Atkins said of the look referred to as “five-out.” “It definitely feels good, that small lineup out there.”

Four Irish scored in double figures, led by Jerian Grant's 20. Freshman Demetrius Jackson added 13 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes, all career highs for the Marian product.

“I felt like I had a little more energy,” said Jackson, sick much of the week.

And about those eight rebounds, most of which the 6-foot-1 Jackson secured among the trees in traffic?

“The ball was up there, so I just went to go get it,” he said.

So did the rest of the Irish. A better team rebounding effort allowed Notre Dame to dominate the backboard, 42-25. Sixteen offensive rebounds delivered 21 second-chance points.

Brandon Clark led Santa Clara (2-2) with 21.

Notre Dame (3-1) avoided losing consecutive home games in November for the first time in school history. That was in jeopardy as the Irish led by only four with 10:39 remaining. Irish coach Mike Brey then subbed sophomore power forward Austin Burgett in with four guards — Atkins, Grant, Pat Connaughton and Jackson. He asked the group to do something simple on the offensive end — move and cut and cut and move.

“That was really neat to see tonight,” Brey said. “We were hard to guard and then we could guard and we didn't get hurt on the backboard. We rebounded.”

The five have worked periodically in practice, but it's the first time they've played together in a game. The days of Notre Dame leaning heavily on two bigs for long stretches may be numbered.

“We can really get out on the court, run the floor and spread people out,” said Burgett, who grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. “We just really moved and cut, and it went well on offense.”

The result was a decisive 12-0 run fueled by that moving and cutting that ballooned the Irish lead to 16 with 8:03 to play. After getting their deficit to four, the Broncos labored 3:59 without a point and 4:31 without a field goal.

“It was hard to just stay in front of them,” said Santa Clara guard Jared Brownridge, who scored 16 points. “We came out here and battled.”

The quicker, smaller Irish lineup attacked in waves. Grant scored on a drive thanks to a Connaughton connection. Connaughton then scored on a drive thanks to Grant. Jackson delivered a big 3 to put the Irish up 11, just as he did in the first half.

Jackson wasn't done. He dug out a loose ball and found Burgett for a big two-handed dunk that brought the building to life. Jackson then scrapped out an offensive rebound, finished strong and was fouled.

Just like that, it was 69-53.

“We have a lot of speed on the court,” Jackson said. “Our guards did a great job of everything. We just challenged ourselves all week and tried to get better.”

Notre Dame led the final 26:14.

Of the three Irish main low-post players — Zach Auguste, Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman — only one played well enough to retain his spot in the rotation the entire game. Bouncing back from an awful effort earlier in the week, Sherman finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“Sherm scoring in the post was a key,” Brey said. “We need something down there. He's our best candidate as a low-post scorer. For him, it was a good night.”

Grant led the Irish with 13 first-half points. He helped break open what had been a competitive early first half that featured three ties and 12 lead changes the first 14 minutes with seven quick points. That spearheaded a 10-0 Irish run and flipped a one-point deficit to a nine-point lead.

Notre Dame enjoyed its first double-digit lead with 2:55 remaining when Burgett dropped in two free throws to cap a 14-3 burst.

Notre Dame's largest lead of a quick and competitive first half hit 11 when Jackson delivered a right-wing 3.

Looking to be more aggressive on drives and force officials to call the new hand-check foul, the Irish were 11-of-14 (78.6 percent) from the foul line the first 20 minutes, 23-of-27 (85.2) for the game, after shooting just 46 free throws combined the first three games.

“It was great to see us get to the line tonight,” Brey said. “That should be a weapon for us.”

It had been a long week for Notre Dame, which fell out of the national rankings following Sunday's 83-70 home loss to Indiana State in a game the Irish were rarely in. The loss snapped a 48-0 November non-conference home record for the Irish during Brey's 14-year tenure.

After wondering aloud following Sunday's loss whether the Irish starting lineup would change — with that change being Burgett moving into a power forward slot — Brey decided to use the same starting five as the previous three games.

Burgett was the first Irish sub in — for Knight — at the 15:49 mark of the first half. Burgett then started the second half in place of Knight. Auguste then was the first big off the bench in the second half.

Knight scored two points with no rebounds in a first half he really needed to be better in. Then he wasn't.

Plenty of other smaller, quicker guys were.

“It was a good energy we brought,” Burgett said.


At Purcell Pavilion

SANTA CLARA (2-2): John McArthur 3-8 0-0 7, Yannick Atanga 1-2 0-0 2, Brandon Clark 8-15 2-2 21, Denzel Johnson 2-4 0-0 4, Jared Brownridge 5-10 2-2 16, Jerry Brown 2-5 2-4 6, Jalen Richard 0-0 0-0 0, Julian Clarke 1-2 0-0 2, Evan Roquemore 2-10 3-4 9, Robert Garrett 1-1 0-0 2, Nate Kratch 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 9-12 69.

NOTRE DAME (3-1): Tom Knight 1-1 0-0 2, Garrick Sherman 5-11 6-8 16, Eric Atkins 6-14 2-2 16, Jerian Grant 8-15 2-2 20, Pat Connaughton 2-4 2-4 7, Austin Burgett 2-4 2-2 6, Demetrius Jackson 3-4 5-5 13, Zach Auguste 0-4 4-4 4. Totals 27-57 23-27 84.

Halftime Notre Dame 41-35. 3-Point Goals Santa Clara 10-22 (Brownridge 4-8, Clark 3-5, Roquemore 2-5, McArthur 1-1, Clarke 0-1, Kratch 0-2), Notre Dame 7-16 (Jackson 2-2, Atkins 2-5, Grant 2-5, Connaughton 1-3, Burgett 0-1). Fouled Out Burgett. Rebounds Santa Clara 25 (Atanga 5), Notre Dame 42 (Burgett 10). Assists Santa Clara 16 (Clark 6), Notre Dame 16 (Atkins, Grant 5). Total Fouls Santa Clara 18, Notre Dame 13. A 9,149.

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, left, looks for an open teammate next to Santa Clara's Yannick Atanga during the men's basketball game between Notre Dame and Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN