Notre Dame men's basketball: Irish bounce back

South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS Standing at midcourt mere seconds away from completing an unbelievably efficient team effort in a tough atmosphere, Notre Dame power forward Garrick Sherman turned to teammate Pat Connaughton and punched him with both fists square in the chest. The players traded laughs, but the gesture was fitting. Notre Dame had delivered the knockout punch to Indi-ana in the third-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Able to ride a good start to an even better day and de-termined effort down the stretch, Notre Dame offered a big-time, bounce-back effort by denying Indiana to ever lead and answering every challenge in a 79-72 victory. It would be one happy bus ride home. Notre Dame (8-3) improves to 2-1 in the history of the Challenge while wiping clear any of the remaining bitterness that festered since Wednesday’s home loss to North Dakota State. This one was far beyond a must-win for Notre Dame, which was staring at a week off from game action for final exams before next Saturday’s visit to Madison Square Garden and a game against No. 3 Ohio State.Nobody had to tell the Irish how important Saturday’s game was – for everything. The present, the future. The season. The perception right inside the Hoosier State. The Irish knew. “We’re not stupid,” said Sherman. “We just had to have this one.”Notre Dame then took it by playing with a poise it seldom has shown for all 40 minutes this season. The Irish were way better than they were 11 days earlier in the second half of 98-93 loss at Iowa. They were way better than they were in home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State. They played like a veteran group that knew how to take care of business, no matter the obstacle or the odds. “Confidence-wise, this one’s huge for us.,” said senior co-captain Eric Atkins. “Everyone counted us out right away.” Not the Irish, who con-nected on seven of their first 11 shots as a hot start allowed them to settle in and believe that they could be good. “That was a heck of a lot more fun that Wednesday night,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I’m really proud of my team, ’cause we were reeling a little bit.” On Saturday, the Irish were rolling. Really rolling. And they got something from just about everyone. After spending two relatively anonymous seasons with Michigan State, Sher-man again saved something special for a team from his former conference home. Playing better against a Big Ten team than he ever did when he was in the Big Ten, the fifth-year graduate student connected on six of seven shots from the field for 16 points to go with six rebounds and four blocks. That after a career-high 29 points with nine rebounds earlier in the month against No. 23 Iowa. “I’m just comfortable here; I’ve played a lot of games here,” Sherman said in a back hallway of the venue where the Big Ten tournament has been held. “I’m used to the style of play with these teams. I know how to adjust. I was ready for it.” Sherman had plenty of company. Shaking off an unexplained illness where he felt his brain might fall out of his skull earlier in the morning, Connaughton returned from a scoreless first half to deliver 14 points, including three big 3s, in the second half. He also finished with a game-high nine rebounds in 33 minutes. After going without a field goal three nights earlier, Jerian Grant bounced back in his usual way – with a solid and steady effort. Grant scored a game-high 23 points, including 11-of-11 from the foul line, to go with nine assists in 38 minutes. “When we play energized,” Grant said, “we can beat a lot of people.”Will Sheehey led the Hoosiers (8-3) with 22 points, but had only six after halftime. “We could just never get all the way over the hump” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. As well as the Irish played for much of the day – they rode that solid start on both ends to a 13-point lead in the first half – this one would ride on being better in game situations while a pro-Indiana crowd stirred to life in the second half. “Guys made key plays, clutch plays,” Brey said. “I’m not surprised. These old guys have been in a lot of battles like this.” A Connaughton 3 bumped Notre Dame’s advantage to eight points with 12:37 re-maining before Indian ran off five quick ones to make it 59-56. That was the closest the Hoosiers had been since early in the second half, and many in the cream-and-crimson stands figured it was only a matter of time before their guys threw together an-other burst and took the lead. Not so fast, answered the Irish. From the 10:19 mark to the time Ferrell hit a 3 with 2:47 remaining, it was a one-possession game – meaning the Irish led by at least one point and no more than three – 11 times. Notre Dame had an answer – a defensive stop, a really good offensive posses-sion, a forced turnover, a hus-tle play – every single time. “Our veterans just really stepped up and made big plays for us down the stretch,” Atkins said. “Our veterans made the plays to win.” Following a Ferrell turnover with less than two minutes to play in a two-point game, the Irish called a set on their own that they hadn’t used all day – “4-up” – which resulted in an Atkins layup, a four-point lead and, basically, the game. “To beat these guys here, is powerful for our program,” Brey said.Nobody saw this one coming, but nobody in the Irish locker room was surprised. Really. “Once you have a loss at home, you start to get down on yourself, but coach never got down on us,” Grant said. “That kept our energy level up. “We knew we had to get this one.” Done. INDIANA (72): Will Sheehey 9-15 3-3 22, Noah Vonleh 4-5 0-1 8, Troy Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Yogi Ferrell 5-14 0-1 13, Jeremy Hollowell 1-6 1-2 3, Evan Gordon 3-11 2-2 11, H. Mosquera-Perea 1-1 2-2 4, Austing Etherington 1-1 3-3 5, Devin Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Stanford Robinson 2-3 2-2 6, Luke Fischer 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 26-63 13-16 72. NOTRE DAME (79): Eric Atkins 3-10 0-0 7, Garrick Sherman 6-7 4-9 16, Jerian Grant 5-14 11-11 23, Demetrius Jackson 0-3 5-6 5, Pat Connaughton 5-7 1-2 14, V.J. Beachem 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 0-3 0-0 0, Tom Knight 3-6 2-2 8, Zach Auguste 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 25-54 23-30 79.Halftime — Notre Dame 47-42. 3-Point Goals — Indiana 7-20 (Gordon 3-7, Ferrell 3-7, Sheehey 1-4, Williams 0-1, Hol-lowell 0-1), Notre Dame 6-18 (Connaughton 3-4, Grant 2-5, Atkins 1-4, Jackson 0-2, Burgett 0-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Indiana 36 (Vonleh 6), Notre Dame 33 (Connaughton 9). As-sists — Indiana 15 (Hollowell 7), Notre Dame 15 (Grant 9). Total Fouls — Indiana 22, Notre Dame 16. A — 18,165. TNoie@SBTinfo.com574-235-6153Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman (11) battles Indiana forward Noah Vonleh (1) for a rebound on the floor during a mens NCAA college basketball game in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER