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Men’s Basketball: Irish escape Delaware at home

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, December 8, 2013

In the opening game of the BlackRock Gotham Classic, Notre Dame needed a superhero-like performance from senior guard Jerian Grant to avoid Delaware’s upset bid and defeat the Blue Hens 80-75.
Grant scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting and nailed two late buckets to give the Irish (6-2) some breathing room with time winding down.
“I just knew we needed a basket,” Grant said. “They were creeping in and it’s the end of the game, coach is giving me the ball, my teammates are giving me the ball and telling me to make a play. So I did.”
Notre Dame looked like it was going to blow the game wide open in the second half after junior forward Pat Connaughton drained a 3-pointer to put the Irish up 12 with 16:30 left in the game. The Blue Hens (5-4) chipped away at the Irish lead, cutting it to one on junior guard Jarvis Threatt’s driving layup with 2:09 left in the game.
Grant made sure the Blue Hens would not take the lead, burying two jumpers on the next two Irish possessions to quell the Delaware comeback.
“He’s one of the best bad-shot shooters I’ve ever played with,” Irish graduate student center Garrick Sherman said.
Grant’s two shots, which were 36 seconds apart, were almost identical. He drove right before pulling up and knocking down his final two shots of the game.
“I told them ‘That was better offense than our defense, so no worries,'” Delaware coach Monté Ross said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
The Irish closed the game with a 10-6 spurt to secure their sixth win of the season.
Delaware, who had lost three games by a combined eight points, had three players score at least 19 points. Threatt led the Blue Hens with 23 points and 10 assists. Senior guard Davon Usher and junior guard Kyle Anderson each had 19 points in the losing effort.
The Irish also had three players with 19-plus points. Sherman followed up a 29-point effort against Iowa with a 19-point, six-rebound performance against the Blue Hens and Connaughton added 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Connaughton, who has been starting as the second-biggest player for the Irish behind only Sherman, said his rebounding game will continue to be important for Notre Dame.
“It’s something that we need and it’s something that I’ve really focused on throughout the summer, throughout practicing,” Connaughton said. “It’s something I’ve always been able to do, I’ve just kind of lacked the last two years. I just want to step up this year and do it.”
Notre Dame took an early 10-point lead following a 12-0 run in the first half, with Sherman notching eight points during the run.
Delaware clawed back into the game with timely 3-point shooting. The Blue Hens made five straight 3-pointers in a span of three minutes to turn a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead. Delaware shot 43.5 percent from behind the arc for the game.
“You’re feeling like we’re off to a good start and after the … third [3-pointer], I’m going ‘All right,’ and then they bang down two more,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “And they’re tough shots and I’m thinking ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”
The Blue Hens stretched their lead to five before the Irish closed the first half on a 13-1 run, taking a seven-point edge into the half.
“We let them spurt us and that was probably the difference in the entire game,” Ross said.
The Blue Hens did not make a field goal in the final 6:06 of the first half and never led in the second half.
“How we finished the half, I’m really proud of,” Brey said. “We got in there, we defended. We hit a couple shots. That was a key for us to answer that charge right there. That gave us enough confidence and cushion, really, to win the game.”
Notre Dame will continue with the BlackRock Gotham Classic tonight when they take on Bryant and Wednesday when they play North Dakota State.
“These next two teams are just like Delaware,” Brey said. “They’re veteran teams. They’ve won together before and they will come in here loose and letting it rip like the Blue Hens did.”
Bryant (6-3) lost to North Dakota State (6-3) 66-62 on Saturday. Bulldogs junior guard Dyami Starks leads Bryant with 23.4 points per game and has only scored in single-digits once this season. He scored 26 against North Dakota State.
Notre Dame is in the midst of an eight-day stretch that features four games. Brey said the team would have minimal contact Sunday before playing Monday.
“There’s no day off until [next] Sunday,” Brey said. “We’re going right on through.”
The Irish and the Bulldogs tip at 7 p.m. tonight at Purcell Pavilion.
Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu