Notre Dame finishes exhibition play Friday
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, November 6, 2014
Mature. Vocal. Slowed down.
These words, among others, were used by Irish coach Mike Brey when describing the development of two of his players, sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Zach Auguste, after Notre Dame defeated Minnesota Duluth, 88-71, in its first exhibition game of the year. The Irish meet Lewis at Purcell Pavilion on Friday in their second and final preseason game.
Both players put up point totals that topped their best from any game last season — Jackson with 20 to lead the team and Auguste hot on his heels at 19. Brey said the two would be instrumental in helping to turn the team around after last season.
“These two guys are getting to the point where they can be reliable day-to-day,” Brey said. “That was my focus in Italy — 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.”Jackson was the first to focus on areas he still wanted to improve upon after his performance.
“The first thing I noticed was my turnovers,” Jackson said. “We take pride in taking care of the ball, so that’s definitely something I want to work on … [along with] having more assists. Then throughout the whole year, I just want to remain aggressive.”
Jackson was noticeably more talkative on the court against the Bulldogs, something he attributes to his relationships with his teammates and coaches.
“I just feel like a year of maturity as well as getting closer to my teammates and coaches really helped me out,” Jackson said. “I feel like I can say anything, and so I just want to communicate, be a good leader and help the team.
“I know how hard we worked this summer, I know how hard we worked all off-season, so I’m very confident in the things we can do. We have a lot to improve on, but we’re just going to keep working hard and see where it goes.”Brey said Jackson’s development as a vocal leader started on the team’s trip to Italy this summer and has continued through to the start of the season.
“He’s becoming more of a voice,” Brey said. “I think he will become even more of a leader month-to-month. That’s his personality, and when you’re the point guard you’ve got to use your voice. I think he has a really good feel of our system … and I think as the year goes on, I think he will become as strong a voice as [senior guard] Jerian [Grant] and [senior guard/forward] Pat [Connaughton].”
While Jackson and Auguste stole the show in the opener, one of the most intriguing early-season storylines flew under the radar for much of the game. Grant, who played for the first time since December when he took the court against Minnesota Duluth, got off to a cold start, managing only two points in the first half. In the first few minutes of the second half, he appeared visibly frustrated, shaking his head after failing to connect on a couple drives to the rim.
Yet the senior finished with 12 points, a team-high nine assists and a reestablishment of his presence on the court, something Connaughton said would be imperative for the Irish to find success this year.“If you look at last year, we had a bunch of games we were in but couldn’t get that final stop or hit that final shot,” Connaughton said. “He brings that leadership and experience to both ends of the floor. He’s that guy that can do those two things.”
“In Italy, we shot better because [Grant] was on the floor,” Brey said. “He’s able to break down the defense and gets guys looks and that’s a key for us. … We have some shot-makers he can find when he breaks the defense down.”
Then there was Connaughton himself, who, for the first time in his Notre Dame career, is a single-sport athlete. The senior put up 15 points and 11 rebounds on his way to a quiet double-double against the Bulldogs, and as a second year captain, Connaughton has become the voice of the team, Brey said.
“He is truly the main voice of our leadership,” Brey said. “He takes a lot of pride in setting the tone, bringing the young guys along.”
When the team takes to the court against Lewis, Brey said defensive rebounding will be something he really wants it to focus on.
“You’ll hear me say that throughout the season,” Brey said. “Team rebounding, team rebounding. Can we get our guards down there to help us? Can Zach be a eight, nine, 10 — can he join Pat as a double-figure guy? Who else helps us rebound? That is a thing that concerns me.”
Some of those questions may be answered some when Notre Dame meets up with Lewis on Friday at Purcell Pavilion. The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.