Notre Dame men's basketball: Sherman, Grant pace Irish victory

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Logging triple-digit college basketball games for two programs across five seasons, Notre Dame power forward Garrick Sherman knew he was way overdue to do something Monday he’s never before done.

And he knew he’d have a host of text messages from one of his buddies who keeps close watch on his stat lines waiting afterward to let him know it.

Able to deliver another solid effort a week after scoring a career-high 29 points at No. 23 Iowa, the 6-foot-11 Sherman took another career-first step against Bryant in the second round of the BlackRock Gotham Classic.

The main low-post option for much of an ugly, grind-it-out game, Sherman finished with his first career double-double of 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds as the Irish moved to 7-2 with a 70-59 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

Asked often afterward about his big night, Sherman was more concerned, and a bit bothered, by his game-high five turnovers. Despite those difficulties with the ball, the Michigan State transfer did something the Irish need him to do again and again and again as this season – his last – goes forward.

He delivered.

“I guess it’s exciting, but it’s not really a big deal for me,” Sherman said of the double-double. “I don’t care about it that much, but I know it’s something that my team needs for me, so it’s exciting in that respect.

“When you get 13 rebounds, that’s huge for our team.”

His teammates appreciated it.

“Sherm was down there putting in work,” said guard Jerian Grant, who did his work on the perimeter to the tune of 23 points and nine assists, both game-highs.

Sherman’s success around the rim and on the backboard allowed the Irish to finish with 28 points in the paint, 14 second-chance points and a 44-30 rebounding advantage.

“He was aggressive,” said Bryant power forward Alex Francis. “He just played good basketball.”

As did Bryant, which won two games two seasons ago. The Bulldogs trailed big early – 7-0 — but refused to head home to Rhode Island without at least challenging the Irish. Bryant (6-4) placed four in double figures, led by 17 from Francis.

“We were right there,” said Bulldogs coach Tim O’Shea. “We weren’t overmatched.”

What the Bulldogs didn’t have were answers for the myriad Irish weapons. Playing career game No. 109, Sherman had double-double company from a familiar Purcell Pavilion customer. Junior swingman Pat Con-naughton shook off early foul trouble – he picked up two the first six-plus minutes – but refused to back off from his competitive ways. Connaughton finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double in as many home games and fifth of his career.

“I’ve got to do it on the road now,” said Connaughton, who gets his chance Saturday against Indiana in the third-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Like Fieldhouse. “I’ve got to do it Wednesday (at home against North Dakota State) and then again Saturday.”

It reached a point Monday where Connaughton, despite his foul troubles, had to be on the floor. Without him, the Irish lacked everything he offered when he was on the bench. Connaughton played through the fouls, never did pick up his third in the first half, and gave the Irish a 39-27 lead with a hustle rebound and basket off a Sherman miss at the halftime horn.

“I’m going to have to play with fouls, so it was good practice,” Connaughton said.

While Sherman was again steady, so was Grant, who did a little of everything – much of it away from the spotlight – as the Irish were able to shrug off an early five-point deficit to lead by as many as 13 in the second half. When the offense hit the skids after jumping to the quick 7-0 lead, Grant figured it was his time to get going.

Able to get easy basket after easy basket thanks to some solid defensive work from teammates Austin Burgett and Tom Knight, Grant busted loose for 13 points in a first-half stretch of 7:24. That helped the Irish flip what had been a four-point deficit to the 12-point lead at intermission.

“When the offense is struggling, I try to get in transition a little bit,” Grant said. “I tried to get myself open looks and guys looked for me to get me open. The guys, they find me.”

Defensively, the Irish limited the Bulldogs to one basket the final 8:27.

“We really locked down,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Our team defense was really good.”

Grant delivered one of the biggest baskets in the second half. With the Irish offense stagnant and the Bulldogs perhaps a play away from making this one really interesting, Grant dropped a big 3 from the wing to push the Irish up 59-52 with 90 seconds left.

“Once I knew the game was coming down to the end and they were creeping back, I got a good look I was confident with it,” he said.

For good measure, Grant also embraced the challenge of guarding high-scoring guard Dyami Starks. Coming into the contest averaging 23.4 points a game, Starks managed only a dozen and was seldom a factor in finishing 4-of-12 from the floor.

“Jerian Grant, the game that he had guarding Starks, and then doing what he did offensively was fabulous,” Brey said. “That takes a lot of energy and a lot of concentration and he never let that guy get going.”

Bryant’s free-wheeling ways allowed the Bulldogs to get as close as four points with 2:37 remaining. It then turned into foul-shooting contest, one the home team wasn’t going to lose. Notre Dame connected on all 10 of its free throws the final 61 seconds, including four each from Connaughton and Grant.

“That’s something we pride ourselves on; that’s what we do,” Sherman said of being good (76.9 percent) from the foul line. “We know it gets close and comes down to free throws, we have confidence in ourselves knocking them down.”

BRYANT (6-4): Alex Francis 6-13 5-6 17, Claybrin McMath 0-0 0-0 0, Corey Maynard 4-12 0-0 10, Joe O'Shea 5-12 0-0 13, Dyami Starks 4-12 0-0 12, Declan Soukup 0-0 0-0 0, Bosko Kostur 0-0 0-0 0, Shane McLaughlin 0-1 0-0 0, Ellis Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Dan Garvin 3-9 1-1 7, Curtis Oakley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-59 6-7 59.

NOTRE DAME (7-2): Garrick Sherman 6-12 2-3 14, Eric Atkins 1-6 0-0 3, Jerian Grant 5-12 11-13 23, Demetrius Jackson 2-5 3-6 7, Pat Connaughton 5-10 4-4 17, Austin Burgett 0-2 0-0 0, Tom Knight 3-8 0-0 6. Totals 22-55 20-26 70.

Halftime — Notre Dame 39-27. 3-Point Goals — Bryant 9-23 (Starks 4-8, O'Shea 3-6, Maynard 2-6, Garvin 0-3), Notre Dame 6-19 (Connaughton 3-8, Grant 2-5, Atkins 1-4, Jackson 0-2). Fouled Out — Garvin. Rebounds — Bryant 30 (Garvin, Maynard 6), Notre Dame 44 (Sherman 13). Assists — Bryant 15 (Maynard 7), Notre Dame 17 (Grant 9). Total Fouls — Bryant 19, Notre Dame 9. A — 7,323.

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, left, takes the ball downcourt during the NCAA men's basketball game between Notre Dame and Bryant on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN