They were outrebounded by 14 and gave up a whopping 19 offensive rebounds. They shot only 4 of 19 from beyond the three-point arc. They turned the ball over a season-high 13 times. They missed a bunch of free throws in crunch time, including 4 in a row nursing an overtime lead.
All of these things were true of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-1, 2-0) today, who were able to survive two overtimes and all they could handle from the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-4, 0-1). But, as good teams often do, they found a way to add it to the win column anyway.
It's not fair to say that the Irish did nothing right today. Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson were able to penetrate at will against the undersized Yellow Jacket backcourt to lead a very efficient game from inside the paint. Grant especially was the star of this one, finishing with 24 points, all of which were in the paint or at the free throw line.
Notre Dame actually trailed for the majority of this one. They miraculously cut an early 11-point deficit down to 4 thanks to a very inefficient half from Georgia Tech, who could only amass 31 first-half points despite dominating the run of play. The Yellow Jacket lead swung from 4 to 8 early in the second half, until a Steve Vasturia lay-in with the foul cut the lead to two following the under-12 timeout.
Notre Dame later took the lead on a Pat Connaughton dunk off a beautiful Jerian Grant feed, but it was the possession before that has everyone talking:
Oh my god, Jerian Grant https://t.co/efzEi704Y2— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 3, 2015
Jerian Grant took the inbound pass for this dunk of the year candidate that completely changed the energy of this game in Purcell Pavilion.
From this point on, in retrospect at least, the Irish had control of this game. They let Georgia Tech back in it a couple times, who unfortunately nodded the score twice just before the clock read zero, leading to extra time when Notre Dame should already have won.
Much like the game against Michigan State, the Irish came out blazing in overtime. But their six-point lead early in the period was not enough in the final minutes, as four straight missed free throws let the Jackets crawl back into a tie game, before a point blank Zach Auguste miss off a missed Grant lay-in resulted in double overtime.
Again in double overtime, the Irish immediately put their foot on the pedal, as threes from Vasturia and Pat Connaughton helped Notre Dame get out to a seven-point lead. This time, Notre Dame kept the Jackets at arm's reach throughout the last couple minutes, as converted free throws and defensive stops allowed the Irish to close out this one a winner.
Vasturia was quietly a key in this one, scoring 17 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. The rest of the starters scored in double-digits as well, despite their various struggles throughout the game.
Georgia Tech was led by Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had 20 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Charles Mitchell was also huge inside, literally and figuratively, going for 14 points and 12 rebounds, throwing his weight at the Irish bigs at will.
Notre Dame next heads to Chapel Hill to take on the 19th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on Monday night. This will be one of the biggest games of the regular season for the Irish, as they have an early opportunity to steal a win over a ranked opponent on the road. They have yet to be truly tested in a road game, so it will be very interesting to see how they respond to the rowdy Dean Dome crowd. The game will be featured on ESPN's Big Monday at 7pm EST.
Other thoughts and observations:
- The Irish were guilty of some heat check 3s when they started to extend their lead a couple times, even though nothing was falling. I didn't mind these, actually, and think this reflects a team confident enough to keep battling and letting it fly offensively even when it's not their day.
- It doesn't matter now, but an absolutely terrible jump ball call led directly to a Georgia Tech three down the stretch in regulation. Charles Mitchell jumped after grabbing an offensive rebound, the ball was barely grazed by Torres on the way back down, and instead of a travel, the ref behind the play called a jump ball, returning it to the Yellow Jackets. Without that three, I think the Irish take this game in regulation. The Irish were not returned the favor when Connaughton grabbed the board on Grant's final free throw miss in regulation, which would have kept the ball with Notre Dame for last shot instead of Georgia Tech.
- Bobby Cremins is, hands down, the worst color commentator in any sport in America. Hang 'em up, Bobby.
- Martinas Geben still did not look ready, even on a day when Notre Dame needed more muscle in the paint against Mitchell and Demarco Cox. He just couldn't handle the level of play today, and it wasn't even a particularly well-played ACC game.
- The Irish had one "burn" possession in regulation that was a very poor idea. They didn't really do it again, though, which is probably for the best with this team. They thrive off the motion, especially Grant, and should just stay in motion for the remainder of the season, even when nursing a lead.
- This team answered the always-looming question of whether they can actually win a game when their threes aren't falling. Yes, they can. If they don't fall apart on the defensive boards, they probably can still beat a really good team, even if they have to rely on going to the paint with Grant and Jackson for the whole game.
- Mike Brey was classic today, pumping up the crowd, taking off the suit jacket, getting animated with the refs. Just a fun guy to play for. His team is really taking to his style this season and continues to exude confidence.