Notre Dame men's basketball: Grant’s big shots help Irish avoid upset

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Bleeding the shot clock toward the expiration buzzer and feeling no pressure in the moment of a one-point game Saturday, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant had a plan.

He was going to be the one to make the play and help the home team win the game.

Still a bit sour after missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation the previous possession, Grant delivered a big-time jumper in a big-time moment, and then followed with another to help Notre Dame survive Delaware.

The Irish moved to 6-2 with an 80-75 victory in the first round of the 2013 BlackRock Gotham Classic at Purcell Pavilion. The format features two more home games — Monday against Bryant and Wednesday against North Dakota State — before Notre Dame advances Dec. 21 to Madison Square Garden against No. 5 Ohio State.

Up by 11 with 11 minutes remaining, the Irish couldn’t shake the Blue Hens and guard Jarvis Threatt, whose dribble penetration was a whole lot to handle. Yet another Threatt drive made it a one-point game, 70-69 Irish, with just over two minutes remaining. That’s when Grant took control, patiently dribbled the shot clock under 10, ignored a ball screen and decided to pull up on the perimeter for the game’s biggest bucket.

“We can’t lose this game; I’ve got to make a play for my team,” said Grant, who scored a game-high 25 points, one shy of matching his career high set in the season opener. “We had to get the ‘W.” It was a huge win. We can’t lose two in a row.

“I just knew I didn’t want to lose.”

“I love the fact that he wanted to take it,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “He should do that. He’s a clutch guy.”

Grant wasn’t done. Following a Delaware turnover, he again got the ball in nearly the same spot before dropping in the same result. His fade jumper made it 74-69 Irish with 58 seconds remaining.

Upset averted.

“Grant hit two unbelievable shots that we had defended,” said Blue Hens coach Monte Ross. “That was better offense than our defense. It wasn’t a bad player that scored on us.”

Who did score was a first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference preseason pick, someone playing with as much confidence and poise and pace as he has at any time in his career. That Grant wanted the ball in his hands and wanted to take the big shot at the big time was a surprise to just about nobody.

It’s who he’s always been.

“Remember the Louisville game last year?” Irish junior Pat Connaughton asked in reference to Grant erupting for 12 points in less than 30 seconds to force the first of five overtimes. “We have the utmost confidence in Jerian. He really stepped up.”

Grant’s late-game goodness allowed Brey to breathe a whole lot easier. He knew back out in Iowa earlier in the week that the Irish would have their hands full with a program he called his own for five years. He also feared that his cell phone just might explode had this one gone the other way.

“My former players at Delaware, if we didn’t get this one, would be killing me,” Brey said. “I may have had to sell the (summer) place in Rehoboth (Beach) and get something on the Jersey Shore.

“The boardwalk would have been hard to walk down in June.”

Though it wasn’t easy, the Irish liked the way they had to answer a whole lot of game pressure by getting a stop here, making free throws there and figuring it out when many figured it all might slip away. Along the way, they were better defensively than they were earlier in the week in a loss at No. 23 Iowa. They also scored at least 80 points for a fifth consecutive game.

“We knew we had to come out here and make a statement coming out of a loss and that’s something we wanted to do,” said Connaughton. “It was really nice. We’re going to be in those types of situations all the time. After a loss, you really couldn’t set it up any better.”

Nor could the Irish ask anything more out of Connaughton, who had 21 points with a game-high 11 rebounds for his second double-double in the last three games. He played all 40 minutes.

“I thought Pat Connaughton was a flat-out man again,” Brey said. “He was fabulous. He made every big play.”

The Irish set themselves up for some second-half success by digging in and defending in a first half that saw Delaware get going from the 3-point arc. A seven-point Irish lead became a two-point Hen advantage thanks to five consecutive 3-pointers in a 2:44 span. But just as Brey got a whole lot nervous, his defense — yep, defense — allowed him to breathe easier.

Notre Dame held Delaware without a field goal the final 6:08 of the first half. On the other end, the Irish responded with 13 consecutive points. The run was highlighted by two Connaughton 3s and a step-back 3 from Grant.

“That was a key, for us to answer that charge,” Brey said. “That gave us a lot of confidence and cushion really to win the game.”

“There was a stretch at the end of the first half where we let them get separation,” Ross said. “We let them spurt us. That was probably the difference in the game.”

Threatt led Delaware (5-4) with 23 points.

Starting small for the third consecutive game, the Irish also circled back to their original top five to start the season for stretches — a look that included power forward Tom Knight, who logged a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) at Iowa. Active and able to offer some bounce, Knight had four points and a season-high six rebounds in 13 minutes. He was the first reserve off the bench in the second half when Brey paired him again with Garrick Sherman (19 points, six rebounds) to go big.

“That was like putting the band back together,” Brey said. “That team’s going to have to play to win games for us.”

It was enough for Knight to earn his way back into the rotation.

“I think we’ve got Tom Knight trending back up,” Brey said. “We need his activity. We need him.”

DELAWARE (5-4): Marvin King-Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Carl Baptiste 3-6 1-2 7, Davon Usher 6-12 4-6 19, Jarvis Threatt 7-17 8-10 23, Kyle Anderson 7-11 0-0 19, Barnett Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Devonne Pinkard 1-3 2-2 5, Maurice Jeffers 0-0 0-0 0, Cazmon Hayes 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 24-52 17-22 75.

NOTRE DAME (6-2): Garrick Sherman 7-12 5-7 19, Eric Atkins 1-4 0-0 2, Jerian Grant 10-16 3-4 25, Demetrius Jackson 1-3 4-6 6, Pat Connaughton 6-13 6-7 21, Austin Burgett 0-0 2-2 2, Tom Knight 2-6 0-0 4, Zach Auguste 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 27-55 21-28 80.

Halftime — Notre Dame 42-35. 3-Point Goals — Delaware 10-23 (Anderson 5-8, Usher 3-6, Pinkard 1-3, Threatt 1-5, Hayes 0-1), Notre Dame 5-12 (Connaughton 3-4, Grant 2-5, Jackson 0-1, Atkins 0-2). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Delaware 27 (Baptiste 8), Notre Dame 37 (Connaughton 11). Assists — Delaware 13 (Threatt 10), Notre Dame 13 (Atkins 6). Total Fouls — Delaware 21, Notre Dame 20. A — 8,157.

Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman reaches for a rebound against Delaware's Carl Baptiste (33) Saturday in a basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ