The Notre Dame men's basketball team returned to their winning ways Wednesday night at the Purcell Pavilion, albeit in an uninspired victory over the Grambling State Tigers.
With most of the arena empty while students are on Thanksgiving Break, the Irish unfortunately followed the cue of the stale environment. Grambling came into the game ranking dead last in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings. The Tigers also entered this one averaging a mere 42 points per game, shooting an unbelievably horrendous 17% from deep and 53% from the free throw stripe. Needless to say, the Irish were expected to take care of business easily.
However, the Irish struggled to demonstrate their class for much of the first half. The Tigers penetrated the Irish defense with disconcerting ease, getting to the rack despite a noticeable size disadvantage. Despite their horrid shooting, they were able to keep this one close by exploiting the interior defense of the Irish. Against Grambling, the Irish were able to get away with this, but this performance does not bode well for our ability to guard ACC bigs.
Grambling also hung in there by simply outworking the Irish, racking up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone, compared to a measly one for the Irish. Against a team that entered the game 345th in the nation in rebounding, this is simply unacceptable. A disinterested-looking Zach Auguste was outworked on the glass consistently in the first half.
Offensively, the Irish were similarly disappointing, although good enough to get the job done. As they have done against other weak opponents, the Irish began the game looking for Zach Auguste to get easy points down low. The Irish were able to exploit the Grambling interior defense all night long, with Irish bigs Auguste and Martin Geben both shooting perfectly from the field.
However, the Grambling zone defense limited Irish penetration for long stretches of time, essentially forcing the Irish to shoot their way to victory from deep. The Irish were able to build a lead early as Demetrius Jackson finally found his stroke from downtown, shooting 4-6 from 3 on the day. Despite this, the Irish also went through long spells of missed threes, allowing Grambling to hang around.
The second half was much of the same, with the Grambling defense limiting the Irish from going on any huge runs. The Irish's main unit was able to start knocking down a few more shots, extending the Irish lead from 14 to 25 before Mike Brey was able to empty his bench.
On the day, the Irish shot well over half of their field goal attempts (27 of 45) from deep. Being a team full of solid long-range shooters, the Irish were able to hit 44% of these shots, propelling them to victory. However, against such a weak opponent, I would have liked the Irish to get easier looks through working the ball to the post. When faced with the zone defense against tougher opponents, it looks like the Irish are prepared to love by the three or die by it.
- Jerian Grant seems to go into distributor mode against inferior opponents. He only put up 5 field goal attempts on the day, but he consistently found good looks for his teammates. His eight assists once again led the Irish, as Grant played quite well despite clearly without his foot fully on the gas pedal. He also knocked down a shot-clock beating 3 to give the Irish some momentum heading into halftime:
- The bench provided quite a spark, with Geben and Beachem both turning in solid, controlled performances. Despite playing only eleven minutes, Austin Burgett played perhaps his best game of the year. He knocked down an outside jumper that has eluded him for much of his Irish career, had a nice drive to the hoop that he finished despite being fouled, and also provided a highlight-reel no-look dish to Auguste for an easy deuce.
- The persistence of Grambling prevented Mike Brey from delving too deep into his bench for much of the game, which was quite annoying. This game should have been a great opportunity to give guys like Bonzie Colson, Geben, and Burgett extended looks, but the Irish could never quite make this one a true blowout. As a result, Brey stuck with his starters for the majority of the game.
- Brey continues to give an interesting Grant-Vasturia-Beachem-Burgett-Auguste lineup a look. This ultra-big unit played well together, with Grant playing as a tall point guard, Vasturia and Beachem as very long wings, Burgett at the stretch 4, and Auguste as the post presence. This lineup looks very versatile, and it could provide Coach Brey an intriguing weapon this year.
- The Irish's ball pressure was quite disappointing tonight, only forcing a season-low six turnovers all night. The quick hands of Jackson and Grant have been fun to watch so far this season, but the Irish played lackadaisically on the defensive end for the majority of this one.
- Tiger guard A'Torri Shine had quite the game. Grambling's leading scorer put up 21 points, and he was able to find and knock down quality looks all day.
It's tough to complain too much about a 27-point victory, but this was the worst the Irish have looked all season. Rather than coming out inspired after a heartbreaking loss to Providence, the Irish simply went through the motions in this one, which will not do against quality opponents. The Irish take on Chicago State on Saturday before hosting Michigan State in their biggest challenge yet this season.