ND opens season against Binghamton
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, November 13, 2014
With questions swirling around about the team, Notre Dame officially opens its regular season when it hosts Binghamton tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.After the first losing season in Irish coach Mike Brey’s 15-season tenure, this year’s squad is eager to get back on the court and redeem themselves, senior guard Jerian Grant and senior guard/forward and team captain Pat Connaughton said.
“We’re all just ready to get going,” Connaughton said. “We’re ready to put last season behind us. Everything that’s being said and that has been said in the offseason, just use it to fuel it game by game.”
“We’re extremely excited,”Grant said. “We’ve moved on from last year. We’re ready to start a new season and show people what we can do.”
On a team full of storylines, Connaughton and Grant represent two of the most interesting. Connaughton was draftedin the fourth round of the MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles in June. He played baseball during the summer for Baltimore’s short-season minor league affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds, then reunited with the basketball team for practice before the Irish traveled to Italy.
This season will mark the first time Connaughton has been a one-sport athlete at Notre Dame, but he said he knows being the only team captain this year is a full-time responsibility.
“Being a one-sport athlete, it allows for more time to just focus on basketball,” the senior said. “Whether it’s getting in extra work in myself or whether it’s just thinking about things that will help the team in a leadership role. … It’s a matter of trying to get [us] all working together as one continuity, chemistry. And it’s been so far so good. It’s a lot of work.”
Grant, on the other hand, was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester last year “due to academic dishonesty.” Notre Dame’s two exhibition games against Minnesota Duluth and Lewis were the first time Grant had seen game action since December. After a slow start against the Bulldogs, last year’s leading scorer up to his suspension exploded for 30 points in the win over the Flyers. Grant said he was just happy to be back on the court with his teammates.
“I felt good out there,” Grant said. “I felt like I was back establishing my role on the team and it was good to get out there and now I’m ready for things to start.”
In addition to the return of their seniors, the Irish will have to find offensive replacements for graduated guard Eric Atkins and center Garrick Sherman, who combined for over 27 points per game last season. Sophomore guard Steve Vasturia logged significant minutes during his freshman campaign as a defensive specialist, but the main firepower will likely come from sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Zach Auguste. In Notre Dame’s two exhibition games the pair combined for an average of 35 points while looking more comfortable and confident on the court, Brey said. He added that treating them like starters since the team arrived for practice before the Italy jaunt is paying off.
“That was my focus in Italy,” Brey said. “Jackson having the ball and knowing he’s our quarterback and Auguste knowing he’s our main low post guy. They started every game over there, and I think they’ve responded well. There’s no question Jerian and Pat have helped them get confident, and the [two seniors] know we need them so they helped me groom them.”
Jackson has taken on the role of running the Irish offense this year, something he said he is ready for after struggling at times last season.
“Everybody was so good,” Jackson said. “There [were] a lot of good players we played against last year. The ACC, everybody is really talented. … I was still trying to understand decision-making and things like that as a point guard, and I think with a year of experience, with a year of learning, that’s definitely helped me out.”
Although Brey admitted Binghamton is in a rebuilding mode, he said it has the potential to be a dangerous offense when they take the floor tonight.
“They’re a talented offensive team,” Brey said. “They play fast, and they have the ability to make shots. They have a lot of guys that can spread you and make 3-point shots. That’s always a recipe for disaster. … So we have to really be aware of that.”
The Irish and Bearcats are scheduled to tipoff tonight at 9 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion in a preliminary game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament. Notre Dame will then host Navy on Sunday at 2 p.m.