How key Notre Dame possession against Duke came together

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Never will it be confused with the greatest clutch corner jumper in Notre Dame men’s basketball history. Dwight Clay made sure of that four decades ago against a UCLA dynasty that came to South Bend one January day and saw its 88-game win streak vaporize.

But the shot that Irish sophomore guard Steve Vasturia connected on in the closing seconds Wednesday against No. 4 Duke might be among the biggest moments in a season that took another step toward being really special.

Now winners of 16 of their last 17, the No. 8 Irish (20-2, 8-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 73-72 following two free throws from Duke guard Quinn Cook with 58 seconds remaining. One stop would give the Blue Devils the ball back and a chance to run the clock all the way down before a possible game-winner.

Duke never got a chance, mainly because guard Jerian Grant wouldn’t allow it. Here’s the beginning, the middle and the end of that Irish possession:

Game clock: 50.8 seconds remaining; Shot clock: 28 seconds remaining

• Grant dribbles into the front court and fires a chest pass to Demetrius Jackson on the right side of the center court shamrock logo near the Irish bench. Grant walks Cook, his buddy from back home in suburban Washington, down the lane to the low block and waits. Jackson stands and holds the ball before Pat Connaughton, at the top of the 3-point arc, signals to Grant with his left hand.

Game clock: 35.7; Shot clock:13

• With Jackson still holding the ball against Duke guard Tyus Jones near midcourt, Grant walks Cook back up the lane. Once he reaches the ACC logo at the foul line, he quickens his pace and rubs Cook off a Connaughton screen at the top of the arc to go and get the ball from Jackson, who had taken one dribble in 15 seconds.

Grant pivots on his left foot, turns and faces Cook and the basket.

Game clock: 34.4; Shot clock: 12

• Grant holds the ball near midcourt and surveys the situation. Irish coach Mike Brey typically wants a big man come up from near the hoop to set a flat ball screen for Grant to read and react from. But there are no bigs in the game. The Irish have the floor spread with five shooters. Grant is in the middle; V.J. Beachem is on the left wing being guarded by Rasheed Sulaimon. Connaughton is occupying space near the middle of the lane, guarded by Justise Winslow. To Grant’s right, Jackson is on the right wing checked by Tyus Jones. Sophomore guard Steve Vasturia is in the right corner, beyond the 3-point line, being guarded by Matt Jones.

Up until that point, Vasturia had taken four shots from the floor. He missed them all.

Connaughton looks to set a screen for Grant, whose eye contact tells him not to bother. Connaughton hustles back toward the low block.

“How good has this been?” wonders ESPN play-by-play man Dan Shulman. “How much fun has this been?”

“Ohhhh, it’s amazing!” responds color commentator Dick Vitale.

It’s about to get better.

Grant dribbles between his legs and starts in on Cook. The other four Irish and their respective Duke defenders remain almost in place. The floor is spaced, which offers Grant plenty of room to do what he does best — make something happen. Everyone in the arena is standing, which just adds to the moment for Grant, whom Brey considers a “bright-lights guy.”

“God, he loves the moment,” Brey said.

Game clock: 27.6; Shot clock: 5.0

• Grant turns his back to Cook as he moves toward the lane. Matt Jones, assigned to Vasturia in the corner near the Irish bench, stands hunched over as he watches Grant operate. Grant pounds the ball to the floor three times. After his third dribble, he fakes a turn over his left shoulder, then quickly goes back to his right and leaps into the air. Fans can be heard counting down the final seconds of the shot clock.

Just as Grant started his spin fake, Jackson made hard cut to the basket from the right. Grant is controlling everything with the ball and his actions, but Jackson’s quick burst toward the basket forces the Duke defense to react quickly for the first time since the ball crossed half court.

Jackson’s slice down the lane — he’s open for an instant — forces Matt Jones to leave Vasturia and choke off the drive of Jackson.

Game clock: 25.6; Shot clock: 3.0

• Jackson’s cut also brings Tyus Jones into the lane. Matt Jones has collapsed from the right corner in front of Vasturia, toward the action. It’s almost as if he’s anticipating a Grant dump pass to Jackson for a layup.

But that’s a no-no.

“We’re not supposed to leave the corner,” Cook said.

Beachem and his defender (Sulaimon), and Connaughton and his defender (Winslow) have moved into the lane to await a possible rebound.

Vasturia stands in the corner, hands at the ready, expecting a pass from Grant even though he’s yet to make a basket in the game.

Doesn’t matter. If he’s open, Grant’s vowed to get it to him. Confidence from all Irish angles runs deep.

“His percentage, when they’re crunch-time shots, big shots, it’s well over 50 percent,” Brey said of Vasturia. “We have a lot of confidence in Steve rising up to take it.”

Game clock: 24.4; Shot clock: 2.0

• Sensing the Duke defense zeroing in what he’s doing, Grant leaps in the air off his spin to the right to zip a pass into the waiting hands of Vasturia. Matt Jones is too far out of position to recover quick enough to challenge Vasturia. Tyus Jones, the closest Devil defender to Vasturia, is late to see the play unfold and reacts to slowly. He moves toward Vasturia, but his arms are down as Vasturia absorbs Grant’s perfect pass and rises.

“There’s two seconds (on the shot clock),” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You have to make Grant take a two-point shot, which we were, and then we left (Vasturia).”

Grant had told Vasturia during the previous timeout that he was going to come to him if the situation warranted it. It did. He did.

“That’s such a pro move, what he did there backing down (Cook) and then finding a shooter in the corner,” Brey said. “The poise with which he got Steve that shot, he had that lined up for almost five seconds before he passed it.”

As soon as he did, Grant started back-pedaling down the floor, almost as if he knew what was coming next.

Game clock: 22.0; Shot clock: 0

• As the shot-clock buzzer sounds, Vasturia’s first basket falls.

“Vasturia……got it!” shouts Shulman.

“Ohhhhhhh!” Vitale offers.

Vasturia pumps his right fist as he runs by Brey, who is furiously signaling the Irish to get back on defense. Duke calls timeout as Purcell Pavilion is up for grabs.

While the home sideline goes bananas, the five Irish on the floor barely offer any hint of what happened. Connaughton walks to the huddle and looks at Grant as if to say, "Yep, knew that was coming." Even Vasturia is emotionless.

“The kid hit a huge shot,” Krzyzewski said.

Making a big 3 at a big time at Notre Dame is nothing new for Vasturia. Last year against Clemson, he made two in the second overtime — both times giving the Irish lead — in a 68-64 victory. Vasturia guessed it’s been since his days back at St. Joseph’s College Prep in Philadelphia that he last delivered a shot that clutch so late in regulation.

“You’re just pumped,” he said. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”

Notre Dame freshman Bonzie Colson and his teammates celebrate Wednesday's comeback victory over No. 4 Duke.SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN