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Men’s Basketball: Holding off the Huskies

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, January 29, 2012

Revenge is a dish best served on the road.

After No. 19 Connecticut ended Notre Dame’s 29-game home winning streak Jan. 14, the Irish stole a 50-48 victory at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., to add to the Huskies’ recent woes. The upset completes a colossal week for the Irish who stunned then-No. 1 Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 21 and handed Seton Hall its first home loss Wednesday.

“I’m so proud of our group and what we are becoming,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a postgame interview with und.com. “We are playing well and playing well at the right time. These three wins against these opponents put us in a spot [to work our way] into the NCAA tournament.”

Sophomore guard Jerian Grant knocked down two free throws late to give Notre Dame (14-8, 6-3 Big East) a five-point lead, but Connecticut sophomore forward Jeremy Lamb, who led the Huskies (14-6, 4-4) with 16 points, hit an off-balance 3-pointer to cut the Irish lead to two. After Grant made one of his two free throws, he alertly fouled Lamb before the preseason All-American could shoot a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining in the game.

After hitting his first free throw, Lamb — who injured his back early in the first half — missed the second and got his own rebound. His potential game-tying putback glanced off the rim as the Irish celebrated their third consecutive upset victory.

“We haven’t fouled as much in that situation,” Brey said. “But we fouled and [Lamb] missed the second shot, but we were active enough to force a tough shot after the rebound. Next time I think we will play it out.”

Dubbed the BW Parkway guards by Brey, Grant and sophomore guard Eric Atkins carried the Irish and controlled the offensive tempo, each logging 38 minutes and combining for 24 points and nine assists. After trailing 24-21 at halftime, the duo led the Irish on a 13-0 run to start the second half, as Notre Dame held the Huskies scoreless for the first seven minutes of the half.

“Those are two games where Jerian has done a good job on Lamb and then no one could really guard Jerian,” Brey said. “Atkins and Grant are really growing into men, and I am so excited about their job in league [play].”

At one point in the second half, the Irish kept possession for 1:27 straight, capitalizing on two of their 11 offensive rebounds while running the shot clock down to single digits on each possession. But Connecticut cut the lead to four with over four minutes left behind the strong play of freshman center Andre Drummond, who recorded a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Up 40-38 with 4:32 left, Atkins missed a 3-pointer, but Grant silenced the crowd by intercepting Drummond’s outlet pass and dishing it to junior forward Jack Cooley for an authoritative slam and a four-point lead.

In the first half, UConn and Notre Dame each juggled the lead before the Huskies went on a 7-0 run with just over five minutes left in the half behind five straight points from Lamb. Despite the return of freshman guard Ryan Boatright from an NCAA suspension over eligibility issues, the Huskies couldn’t get their outside shooting game going, only hitting three of 13 from beyond the arc.

Senior forward Scott Martin added ten points, including a 3-pointer that extended the Irish lead to 10 with 13:07 left in the game. But Martin’s contribution to the Irish win went beyond his clutch shooting to his poise in key moments down the stretch.

With nine minutes left in the first half, Martin drove the lane and pulled up for a jump shot, but was stripped of the ball with three seconds left on the shot clock. In mid-air, Martin tipped the ball to sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich, who threw a no-look, one-handed touch pass to Cooley for a layup as the shot clock expired.

“They had two Drummond on Martin a lot, and [Martin] had a big play with the three to give us a ten point lead,” Brey said.

But we definitely want to bottle this feeling and get a little rest because we have another tough big East team coming in.”

After snapping its six-game losing streak at the XL Center, Notre Dame will have the week off before hosting No. 14 Marquette on Saturday in the Purcell Pavilion.

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu