Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant remade himself for big moments

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Moments like this confirm the decision.

This time last year, while in exile from the Notre Dame men’s basketball team because of an academic situation, Jerian Grant had his options.

Pack it in, give the NBA a shot, hope for the best. Or… maintain focus, work to get better, dedicate to a return to Notre Dame.

If the 6-foot-5 senior guard hadn’t convinced people who matter before Wednesday night that he’s special, his 23-point, 10-assist, six-rebound effort in the 77-73 Irish victory over fourth-ranked Duke gave a pressbox full of NBA scouts plenty to think about.

They all came to drool over Duke’s “made-for-the-league” 6-11 freshman Jahlil Okafor (22 points, 17 rebounds), but left with a healthy respect for the guy from eighth-ranked Notre Dame who could do it all.

If the vote were taken today, Grant could be considered the best player in America.

“Grant had a great game,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He’s a terrific player, so he’s going to have a great game.”

Personal gain has been far down the list of objectives for Grant, while considering his return to the Irish. The motive for his mission went way beyond that.

“I definitely wanted to win more, that was the main thing coming back,” Grant said. “They struggled last year in the (Atlantic Coast Conference). To come back and get a lot of wins was the most important thing for me.

“The way we’re doing it, I couldn’t have imagined it any better. We got out here, we’re getting wins.”

In the last 1:07 of the game, with Notre Dame (20-2 overall, 8-1 ACC) precariously clinging to a one-point lead, it was Grant who stepped up.

He drained a jumper in traffic to push the Irish up by three.

“When the game to right down to the end, Grant made that bucket,” said Krzyzewski, his Blue Devils 17-3 and 4-3. “That was a heck of a bucket; a fortunate bucket, but a heck of a bucket.”

With 22 seconds left and the Irish up by one, he passed on a shot and dished to Steve Vasturia for the clinching 3. On Duke’s ensuing possession, Quinn Cook found a lane to the basket, but had his layup rejected by, you guessed it, Grant.

“I saw (Cook) driving toward the basket,” Grant said. “I knew he was going to get a layup up quick. I used my athleticism.”

Boy, did he. He swatted the ball into the hands of Vasturia, who turned it the other way.

“I just knew, late game, I had to make plays,” Grant said. “Just making plays late game is something I know I can do.”

He also made plenty of plays early in the game, too.

One of the night’s defining plays was his 3-pointer from just west of Mishawaka. Shot clock was winding down. Grant was perched midway between the top of the key and midcourt. He hesitated on the move he planned to make, then decided to let loose from wwwwaaaaayyyyy beyond the arc.

Nothing but net.

“I was figuring out a move to do,” Grant said. “I knew it was going to be a one-on-one move. The floor was spread. They were going to switch on any ball screen. I just thought about it too much, lost the ball, and gathered it.”

What’s going through coach Mike Brey’s head when Grant fires away?

“Whatever Jerian wants to do,” Brey said with a shrug. “When he’s feeling it like that.”

Grant, it seems, has a very loud and distinctive voice on this team. Brey told a story about the early portion of Sunday’s comeback win at North Carolina State in overtime. In the first half, Pat Connaughton was on the bench with two fouls as the Irish trailed by two.

“I’m thinking, ‘OK, (we’re) right where we want them,’” Brey said. “‘We’re all right. We’ll get Pat in the second half.’ Jerian looks at me and he goes, ‘We need him.’ (Brey motioned, pointing his finger) ‘Pat, get in the game.’

“Jerian has a lot of say on this. He’s got a big basketball IQ. He knows our sets. He knows our system.

“God, he loves the moment. He is such a bright-lights, big-stage guy. He’s really clutch.”

Maybe the best in the country.

Certainly worth coming back.

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant (22) fires up a three during the Notre Dame-Duke men's basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Senior guard, Jerian Grant celebrates at the end of Notre Dame's matchup against Duke at Purcell Pavilion Wednesday, January 28, 2015 in South Bend. The Fighting Irish beat the Blue Devils 77-73. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ