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Notre Dame Defends Home Court Against Villanova, Moves to 3rd in the Big East

After their annual mid-January lull and the loss of 6th year senior Scott Martin, Notre Dame gets back on track with two consecutive wins over USF and Villanova.

The addition of Tom Knight in the startling line up is bringing about some good things
The addition of Tom Knight in the startling line up is bringing about some good things
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The late game collapse against Connecticut was one thing, and ND is always in a haze at MSG against St. John's so that loss was understandable too, but the blow out loss to Georgetown at home was probably a new low for the Irish since last year's blowout loss to Missouri in Kansas City.

As the Manti Te'o saga unfolded across the nation, the Irish basketball team didn't appear to be all there mentally for a while as they went 1-3 while the Te'o story was making its rounds on the papers and television screens. Now that one of the most ridiculous chapters of Notre Dame football history is coming to a close, the Irish basketball team seems to be back on track as well. Allow me to be clear though, there's simply no way those two things are related... or are they?

After the blow out loss to Georgetown and 6th year senior and co-captain Scott Martin went down with the knee injury, head coach Mike Brey went back to the drawing board and indicated that the team needed to "reinvent" itself in the wake of both the Georgetown and Martin loss. He seems to have gotten that with senior Tom Knight in the starting lineup.

Knight posted a career high 17 points and added 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in a big comeback win at Tampa as he and Jerian Grant - who also seems to have turned a proverbial corner and posted 18 points in the win - led the Notre Dame to a 73-65 victory. The Irish outscored the Bulls 43-28 in the final 20 minutes.

Then came tonight where the sizzling hot Villanova Wildcats came to town fresh off their huge back to back wins against Louisville and Syracuse and led by Jay Wright's impeccable pinstripe suit and pindot tie combination.

Even with their floor captain - Eric Atkins - struggling to get anything going (Atkins was limited to 4 points and 4 assists) all night, ND showed their greatest strength - ball movement - in all its glory as the Irish 12 field goals on 11 assists in the second half of a 65-60 win.

Other than Atkins, almost everyone else had themselves a game worth talking about: Jack Cooley was strong with his 17 points and 16 (!) rebounds, Tom Knight continued to contribute as a starter with 10 points 4 rebounds and 2 blocks (including one jaw dropper late in the second half), Jerian Grant continued to be an aggressive shot maker and creator as he posted 12 points 10 assists (and never sat) and even the rarely used freshman big Zach Auguste got in there to play a little over 6 minutes and chip in 4 points. But the real hero of the night was freshman Cameron Biedsheid who broke out of his Big East (1/14 from long range in conference play up until tonight) shooting funk to go 5 of 7 from beyond the arc and put up a team high 18 points.

Sure the Irish needed all world efforts from Cooley on the boards and Biedscheid from the three point line but that was because Atkins and Pat Connaughton (0 points on 0 for 5 shooting) had duds. Here's to hoping the roundballers can round into shape by having a more all around consistent game over the last 10 games of the regular season.

With the win the Irish improved to 5-3 in conference play and 17-4 overall as they moved into a tie for 3rd in the conference standings. They play at DePaul on Saturday before a Monday night showdown against #6 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. After that the Irish host ESPN College Game Day and the Louisville Cardinals.

Quick hits:

  • Mike Brey has gone to the button down shirt over the mock turtleneck these past few games. "Change of karma baby." he said after the game. I like the feeling of this one. Keep it up coach.
  • Zach Auguste. So exciting. I think he may have moved up on the rotation over Garrick Sherman. Fingers crossed man.
  • Remember the manimal known as Kenneth Faried? He had a rebounding rate of over 40% which is unheard of - anything above 25% is elite. You know who consistently is in the low 30s? Yup. Jack Cooley.
  • Jerian Grant has decided to put his head down and try to get to the lane early and often. It didn't work so well tonight but if he can keep doing that in the early going it'll loosen things up for him in the perimeter for pull ups like they did tonight. All 12 of his points came from 3 point shots.
  • Seriously gotta get better at making late game free throws. Cost us against Connecticut, and almost cost us tonight.
  • I really like LaPhonso Ellis. As a player, announcer and as a person. Like it's borderline Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to Te'o. Hey I'll be here all week folks! Actually no I probably won't.