Defense has been the major question mark for Mike Brey and his Irish squad thus far this season. Likely no one has taken more of a beating for his defensive efforts than senior Jerian Grant.
And on Monday night, Grant had his hands full when the Irish hosted the Bryant Bulldogs, as he was matched up with the eighth-leading scorer in the nation, Dyami Starks. But despite the questions coming into the game, Grant answered the call on both ends of the court.
Starks was held to about half his scoring average with just 12 points on 4-12 shooting, in large part due to Jerian Grant's strong effort. Beyond that, Grant simply filled up the stat sheet, scoring 23 points while picking up 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Make no mistake about it, Jerian Grant is living up to his 1st team all-ACC billing and then some so far this season.
Elsewhere, two other Irish players had double-doubles. Garrick Sherman earned the first of his career with a 14 point and career-high 13 rebound effort. Forward and jump ball specialist Pat Connaughton quietly scored 17 of his own to go along with 11 rebounds.
This was far from an ideal effort, however, as the Irish struggled offensively for long stretches in the second half, making them unable to put away a middle-of-the-road Bryant squad until very late. Eric Atkins struggled mightily from the field (3 pts, 1-6) despite pitching in with 6 assists and 5 boards. Demetrius Jackson continues to look good but is not nearly as central to the offense as perhaps he should be or was expected to be at this point. And Zach Auguste took the "DNP - coach's decision" for some pretty inconsistent play thus far and a mildly resurgent Tom Knight.
Let's just call this team a work-in-progress for now as it continues to ready for its inaugural ACC season. But there is not much time to mess around, as games against Indiana and Ohio State are right around the corner, and before we know it, Duke will be heading to South Bend to welcome the Irish into the ACC.
Notre Dame takes on North Dakota State on Wednesday at 7pm at the Purcell Pavilion to close out the regional round of the Gotham Classic. This is a sneaky tough game against what I expect to be the Summit League champions this season.