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#14 Irish Hoops Handle Hartford, 87-60

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The Irish hoops returned from Christmas break to dominate an overmatched Hartford team in their final nonconference game.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The #14 Notre Dame men's basketball team just keeps on chugging. The Irish concluded their nonconference schedule in a performance that was very emblematic of their season so far, rolling past Hartford by a score of 87-60. Notre Dame featured a balanced attack, with 4 players putting up at least 15 points, and the well-oiled Irish offense will head into their ACC season averaging a whopping 86 points per game.

Hartford, who came into this matchup at 7-5, showcased a fearless offense that was very effective to begin the game. Their offense whipped around perimeter passes, and their shooters could not miss as they jumped out to an early 10-3 lead. The Irish offense, as has often been the case against weaker opposition, got off to a bit of a stagnant start. After unsuccessfully trying to feed Auguste early, the Irish made a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers before Demetrius Jackson kick-started the offense by knocking down a couple of threes.

As the half progressed, Notre Dame began to extend its lead behind a vintage Jerian Grant performance. The Irish's leading scorer was penetrating the Hawks' defense at will, opening up a plethora of wide-open threes for his teammates. Jerian also brought his own three-point shot tonight, shooting 3 of 5 from deep. After putting up 10 points and 5 assists in the first half, Grant went to the locker room with a couple minutes left with an apparent leg cramp. Luckily, it appears to be a non-issue, as he returned to play the majority of the second half.

Despite this solid performance from Grant, my MVP from this one was Demetrius Jackson. The sophomore point guard continued to look like a new man this year, providing explosive plays on both sides of the court. Right before the break, Jackson sliced through the Hawks' defense and reminded us all why he was a McDonald's All-American.

Immediately following his jam, Demetrius provided some of his stifling ball pressure, grabbing the ball from the Hartford point guard and earning himself a pair of free throws. Then, on the final Hartford possession, Demetrius snuck up on Mark Nwakamma for a vicious block to close out the half.

In the second half, D.J. continued to quarterback the Notre Dame offense, looking supremely confident as the Irish extended their lead to as high as 30. Jackson ended the game with an 18 point/5 rebound/4 assist line, stroking 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

Despite the great performance by the Notre Dame offense, Hartford battled throughout this one. The Hawks shot 46% from the field, hitting 9 three-pointers along the way. Senior forward Mark Nwakamma showcased both a nice jump shot and some sneaky post moves, finishing with 16 points. While they couldn't handle the Irish firepower, this Hartford squad should be a contender in the America East.

Heading into ACC season, this Irish team has provided a great amount of excitement. Coming off of a massively disappointing inaugural ACC campaign, there were plenty of question marks regarding how the Irish would rebound. Although the Irish faced a mostly soft nonconference slate, they played just about as well as could have been expected. They shredded opponents for an average scoring margin of nearly 26 points, second to only Kentucky, who may turn out to be pretty good this year. With an offense absolutely loaded with scoring threats, the Irish have to be feeling pretty confident heading into the meat of their schedule.

Some more miscellaneous thoughts from the Irish victory:

-                    Austin Torres replaced Martinas Geben as the first big off the bench, and he looked to deserve it. He exploded to the rim for a three-point play in the first half, and threw down a monstrous put-back dunk that was unfortunately blown off for offensive goaltending. Geben, on the other hand, continued to struggle with a couple of turnovers in only 6 minutes of play. While I still think Geben will evolve into a very good post presence, Torres is probably the better option this year.

-                    V.J. Beachem struggled in his second game back from his torn plantar fascia, going 0-4 from deep. His shot just looked off all night long. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and go back to his sharpshooting ways, as he has been the Irish's most dangerous bench weapon when healthy.

-                    Zach Auguste was able to turn things around after a slow first half, finishing with 15 points and 7 rebounds. He continues to maintain a fantastic field goal percentage, and he is automatic with that crafty reverse lay-up.

-                    Bonzie Colson had some fun in garbage time, knocking down his first career three-pointer before putting up a three-point play the old-fashioned way. Bonzie's doing his best to keep the Irish offense lethal even when the starters have finished the game off.

-                    Notre Dame next faces Georgia Tech at home. The Jackets just eked out a 1-point home victory over a 6-6 Charlotte squad, and they seem to be reeling after a solid start. Hopefully the Irish can keep up their stellar play and keep some momentum heading into their road matchup against North Carolina.