Notre Dame men's basketball finds way to beat Michigan State in OT

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Pounded in the paint and battered off the backboard by an opponent that just kept attacking, Notre Dame needed a big effort from its backcourt Wednesday if it was going to withstand No. 19 Michigan State.

Unable to establish anything inside on either end until really late, and even then from the unlikeliest of contributors, the Irish simply turned their guards loose to go make a whole lot of plays while again relying on senior captain Pat Connaughton to do the tough stuff when the tough stuff was mandatory.

All of it added up to a 79-78 overtime victory at Purcell Pavilion on the second night of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Senior guard Jerian Grant went for a career- and game-high 27 points while sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson delivered career bests for points (22) and minutes (44) as the Irish improved to 7-1.

“It was a great opportunity to go out and make a statement for our team and just go out and play hard,” Jackson said. “This is a game we play. We love it. Nobody likes to lose, so we wanted to go out and win.”

Irish coach Mike Brey talked leading up to Notre Dame’s first game against Michigan State in 35 years of how important it was for an Irish program that has done a whole lot in his 15 seasons to have success against the Spartans.

He felt the same late Wednesday.

“I’ve experienced a lot of exciting nights in that building there, and that’s got to be one of the top ones,” Brey said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted a win for a team more than I wanted this one for this group.”

Why? Myriad reasons, not the least of which that it allows this squad to further distance itself from last season’s team that never could figure out a way to win a close game. The Irish looked done several times in the second half, but they kept digging, kept defending, kept believing and persevered.

“I’m so pleased that we could get this,” Brey said. “I thought we were mentally and physically tough to do it.”

Jackson got going right from the start with the first eight Irish points. He finished by scoring six of the Irish 12 in overtime. Grant was simply Grant – again. He shot 9-of-17 from the floor, and also had six assists, four rebounds and three steals in all 45 minutes.

“He’s as complete a guard as we’ve played against so far,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose team has already faced No. 4 Duke and No. 11 Kansas. “He’s so unselfish. He doesn’t force shots. He took 17 shots but to me, you never would have even known it.

“He’s a very good player in a lot of areas.”

Notre Dame never trailed in overtime in a game that featured nine ties and 11 lead changes. Michigan State shot 49.2 percent from the field, 52.9 percent from 3 and won the rebounding battle, 43-26. The Spartans finished with 30 points in the paint, but when the Irish needed a stop late in regulation and in overtime, they got it. When they needed a rebound, they got it. When they needed a steal, they got it. When they needed to get on the floor for a loose ball, they got it.

Notre Dame forced 12 turnovers and had seven steals.

“They hit some big shots, but we kept going,” Grant said. “We didn’t hang our heads after they hit a shot or the body language wasn’t bad.

“We kept digging and got the stops when we needed it.”

Connaughton connected on only 3 of 11 shots from the field, but grabbed a team-high eight rebounds with two blocks and two steals in 44 hard-earned minutes.

“We executed at big times,” Connaughton said. “We were able to buckle down. That’s the sign of a team growing in maturity and growing in toughness.

“We needed this one as a squad. We needed this one as a basketball program in general. This was a big one for us to get.”

While the three perimeter players garnered much of the attention, Wednesday’s win likely would not have been possible without sophomore power forward Austin Torres. Tossed into the rotation after a Tuesday foot injury to sixth man V.J. Beachem and ineffective efforts from Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett, the Penn High School product played a career-high 19 minutes. He scored two points with four rebounds and gave the Irish the hustling, hard-working presence around the rim they had lacked for such long stretches.

“Those are the things that (Brey) wants me to do and I’m going to make sure I continue to do them,” said Torres, whose lone basket gave the Irish the lead for good in 1:12 into overtime, 71-69.

Needing to make a serious statement on a national stage, Notre Dame tumbled into a seven-point deficit with just under 11 minutes remaining. Just when it looked like nothing could go right for the guys in gold uniforms and snazzy new green shoes, the Irish tossed together a few defensive stops and got two quick buckets from Jackson to make it a one-possession game.

The Irish then trailed by six with eight minutes and change remaining, but kept coming. Unlike late last month against Providence, Notre Dame found ways to make the plays that mattered.

“At the defensive end, when it was called on,” Connaughton said, “we were tougher.”

That goes for their mental makeup. Each team had a chance to win it in the final 5.2 seconds of regulation. Neither managed even a shot.

Tied at 67, Notre Dame got the ball back with 1.7 seconds remaining after Denzel Valentine dribbled the ball off his foot trying to drive on Grant. Connaughton inbounded to Grant, who had a clear drive to the bucket before Valentine sliced in. Just as he gathered on the layup, Grant lost control of the ball.

No foul. No bucket. On to overtime.

“I knew I had two seconds to get to the basket,” Grant said. “When Valentine came in front of me, the ball kind of slipped out of my hands, but it’s a play I should have made.

“I should have finished the play.”

The Irish would finish soon enough.

MICHIGAN ST. (5-3): Branden Dawson 8-19 0-0 16, Gavin Schilling 4-7 1-4 9, Bryn Forbes 7-7 0-0 18, Travis Trice 3-13 0-0 7, Denzel Valentine 7-13 4-5 22, Marvin Clark Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, Alvin Ellis III 0-2 0-0 0, Matt Costello 2-3 0-0 4, Lourawls Nairn Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, Colby Wollenman 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 32-65 5-9 78.

NOTRE DAME (7-1): Zach Auguste 2-7 0-1 4, Demetrius Jackson 7-11 6-8 22, Jerian Grant 9-17 7-8 27, Pat Connaughton 3-11 5-5 12, Steve Vasturia 4-7 2-3 12, Austin Torres 1-1 0-0 2, Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 20-25 79.

Halftime--Notre Dame 37-35.

End Of Regulation--Tied 67.

3-Point Goals--Michigan St. 9-17 (Forbes 4-4, Valentine 4-7, Trice 1-5, Ellis III 0-1), Notre Dame 7-23 (Vasturia 2-4, Jackson 2-5, Grant 2-8, Connaughton 1-6).

Fouled Out--Trice.

Rebounds--Michigan St. 43 (Dawson 18), Notre Dame 26 (Connaughton 8).

Assists--Michigan St. 16 (Trice 5), Notre Dame 7 (Grant 6).

Total Fouls--Michigan St. 22, Notre Dame 14.

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Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (22) drives down court during the Notre Dame-Michigan State men's basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (22) dunks during the Notre Dame-Michigan State men's basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN