As a Notre Dame fan, you had to figure a week off after playing 7 games in 3 weeks (5 on the road) was going to help the Irish, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. Mike Brey's Fighting Irish squad emphatically confirmed that belief, putting up 45 points in the second half on their way to 88 points, their highest output in an ACC game. Notre Dame now stands at 23-4 (11-3 ACC). It was a game largely dictated by the performance of each teams' star, but ACC and national Player of the Year candidate Jerian Grant's 24 points, 3 rebounds, 10 assists, and 5 steals led his team to the 13 point victory.
The Irish took a little while to knock the rust off in the first half. Missed shots and turnovers put the Irish in a bit of a dog fight with Danny Manning's squad. Notre Dame shot only 46% eFG in the first half, and the Demon Deacons worked an effective combination of the interior play of Devin Thomas and knocking down four threes. After hitting only one of their first twelve shot attempts, ND finally got going as the first half wore on. V.J. Beachem stepped off the bench an drained a 3 that seemed to get the Irish going a little, but Wake continued to be effective on the offensive end and the game saw a number of ties and lead changes throughout the first half. Devin Thomas gave ND fits in the half going for 18 points and 8 rebounds.
As time wound down in the half. Pat Connaughton hit a three, then Steve Vasturia drained two more threes, and after a Jerian Grant layup late, the Irish were able to get to the locker room up two. That layup was the start of a scorching 10-0 run that saw the Irish convert on multiple Wake turnovers by leveraging outstanding passing and movement. It was a two minute stretch that causes basketball aficionados to swoon over this Irish team and gave them a 10 point working margin. Watch this 8 point run to open the half...
Notre Dame continued to build on that margin throughout the second half behind solid contributions from Beachem, Bonzie Colson and Austin Torres. A Vasturia three had the lead up to 19 for the under 12:00 media stoppage. Interestingly, Devin Thomas was on the sidelines for a good chunk of the second half. We'll have to watch Manning's post-game comments to understand if Thomas was injured (he was seen by the TV crew holding his wrist) or simply held out. Even without Thomas pounding the Irish inside and drawing whistles on Zach Auguste, the Deacons managed to close the gap to as little as 8 with 5:02 remaining. In the end, however, Notre Dame's two senior leaders were able to calmly dispatch the threat down the stretch and lead the Irish to a hard-earned home victory.
Jerian Grant. Seriously, Jerian Grant. Look at this.
Every ND fan needs to stop before they go to bed tonight and say a little thanks for this guy. He's just so damn fun to watch. Between stealing a critical outlet pass, knocking down shots, attacking the rim, and dishing out 10 assists, Grant demonstrates the total package yet again. His vision in transition is incredible. Other than his 3 turnovers, he was rock solid over all 40 minutes. Grant shot 7-15 from the floor and 8-8 from the line and terrorized whatever defender Wake sent at him. He's a special talent.
Despite Tony Greene's relentless work to keep Zach Auguste off the floor, Zach still put up a nice 14 minutes with tons of energy on both ends of the floor. It was too bad Greene's quick/questionable whistles kept him from playing more because I think he could have contained Thomas better than our other options and I think he was poised for a big offensive night. As it stood, he still went 2-3 from the floor, 8-9 for the line, and pulled down 4 boards. Very encouraging stuff for the junior big man who will need to come up big for Notre Dame as March rolls around.
Demetrius Jackson will hopefully turn the page on this one quickly. Maybe he just hates seeing Wake Forest, because his finishing regressed a bit and his 0-6 shooting hinted of last year's struggles. DJ played a great floor game with 6 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals in 34 minutes. As an Irish fan, you'd love to see DJ power through contact and try to dunk everything around the rim. He's a great FT shooter (4-4 for his only 4 points), and he might be well served to go right through rim protectors.
The Irish flexed their balance tonight. Captain Pat Connaughton fought off illness to score 13 in only 30 minutes of work. His huge 3 late stopped the bleeding during Wake's final push. Steve Vasturia grabbed 3 rebounds and scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting from downtown in 37 solid minutes. V.J. Beachem looked really good putting the ball on the floor, something we'd all like to see more of, in his 10 point effort that included 3 boards and 2-6 shooting from deep. Freshman Bonzie Colson had another good night with 8 points and 3 blocks in 13 minutes of action.
Sophomore Austin Torres also saw 13 minutes of action and his energy running the floor provided a real spark for the Irish. He dunked the ball almost immediately upon entering the game in each half. He grabbed 6 rebounds and notched 2 steals. I hope this is the sign of good things to come from Torres. His energy, physicality, and eagerness to run, screen and defend could be the spark this team needs in a pinch.
ND's cold 1-12 start caused them to get outshot and left them badly under their average shooting numbers, but they were able to more than make up for it by winning the turnover margin and getting to the line. Even more incredibly, the Irish were a scorching 27-28 (.964) from the stripe. ND outscored Wake by 16 from the FT line.
FINAL INFOGRAPHIC ND 88 - WF 75 Jerian notches the Triple-Bowie - 5 or more in 3 categories - 24pts, 10asts & 5stls pic.twitter.com/n4nVc4afw8— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) February 18, 2015
The home victory puts the Irish at 11-3 in the league, 1.5 games behind leader Virginia and a game ahead of 9-3 Duke in the standings. In case you missed it, the Blue Devils have a pretty big game coming up this week (assuming the Triangle area doesn't freeze over). With 2 game leads over Louisville and Duke's opponent this week, UNC, the Irish continue to position themselves well for a top-4 finish and double bye in Greensboro for the ACC tournament.
Another hard earned victory and a night that saw Mike Brey's squad do some things to build upon. Connaughton's illness gave Beachem a few extra opportunities to step in, and with a smooth finger roll and a nice steal on the defensive end, the sophomore is clearly rising in confidence and effectiveness. Steve Vasturia continues to make plays and the little bit of rest seemed to add some arc to his jumper. Every ACC win is something to get excited about and this one should send the Irish out to snowy Boston this weekend with a nice breeze of momentum at their back.
Mike Brey Press Conference
You can also read quotes from Coach Brey, Grant, Vasturia, Colson, Beachem, Danny Manning, and Codi Miller-McIntyre on und.com.
One last note: While it might pain non-Irish fans to have LaPhonso Ellis calling ND games, he continues to be one of ESPN's best analysts, peppering the broadcast with enthusiasm and insight. I'm obviously biased because he was a great presence on campus my freshman year, but this picture warmed the heart.