Irish to face Seminoles in early conference clash
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Things will get a lot more interesting Saturday night inside Purcell Pavilion.
After 10 non-conference games largely against softer competition, No. 25 Notre Dame will kick off its 2014-2015 ACC regular-season schedule by welcoming Florida State to campus. The Irish (9-1, 0-0 ACC) ride a five-game winning streak into the showdown against the Seminoles (4-4, 0-0 ACC) as well as an eight-game unbeaten stretch on their home court. Last season, Florida State nipped Notre Dame in Tallahassee, Florida, 76-74, on Jan. 21 in the teams’ first matchup as ACC foes.
“[Florida State] know[s] how to win in this league,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after his team defeated Mount St. Mary’s, 93-67, on Tuesday night. “Behind North Carolina and Duke in the last seven years, they have the most wins. They are a little bit like us in the Big East. [Seminoles coach] Leonard [Hamilton] has a program that knows how to win in this league.”
Excluding the one-point overtime win Dec. 3 against Michigan State, Notre Dame’s average margin of victory this season sits at 31.4 points. The Irish are 1-1 in games against tougher competition so far, falling by a single point to Providence on Nov. 23 in addition to the overtime win against the Spartans.The Irish currently lead the country in shooting percentage (56.2 percent) and also rank 10th overall in scoring (85.1 ppg). Senior guard Jerian Grant is averaging 19.0 points per game for Notre Dame while junior forward Zach Auguste (14.1), senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton (13.1) and sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (12.8) also average double figures. Sophomore guard Steve Vasturia has emerged as an offensive threat of late, averaging 13.7 points during the last three games, including a career-high 19 points in Notre Dame’s victory over Mount St. Mary’s.
“[Vasturia’s] a pretty mentally tough guy,” Brey said Tuesday. “The numbers say that he should shoot it. I love the way he is hunting and driving more to be aggressive. He’s going to get fouled if he gets in there, and he’s almost automatic from the foul line. … We told him not to play so safe, and we created a monster.”
“It’s about taking the opportunities I get and trying to take advantage of them,” Vasturia said. “Jerian and Demetrius get us a lot of open shots, and they have the confidence in us to knock it down. It’s my job to make those shots.”
The rise of Vasturia has paralleled the team’s confidence over the past week-and-a-half, beginning with the big win over Michigan State. This team is not afraid to step into a tough game, where it struggled last year, Grant said.
“We like to be pressured,” Grant said. “When we have that opportunity, it’s something we look forward to. … It’s great to have Steve playing like that, especially going into Saturday.”Saturday night will mark a first for Grant, who missed all of ACC play last season while dealing with academic issues. That fact has not been lost to Jackson.
“I’m really looking forward to [Florida State,]” Jackson said. “Especially for Jerian, that’ll be great for him playing in the ACC for the first time. … It’ll be a great challenge for us. It’s a bigger team.”
Brey echoed that sentiment, commenting on defensive rebounding as one area in which the Irish struggled against Michigan State, another team with size.
“It was certainly a problem for us against Michigan State,” Brey said. “[Florida State is] really huge. … It’s a big concern and a big focus as we move forward in practice starting Thursday.”
The Seminoles are led outside offensively by junior guard Aaron Thomas and six-foot-eight junior forward Montay Brandon on the inside. Florida State averages a little more than 70 points per game this season despite battling the injury bug early in the year.
After being ranked in the AP poll for the first time in two seasons Monday, the Irish are excited to keep the hot start going against the Seminoles, Grant said.
“It’s fun to know that we’ll be able to start 1-0 in the league if we get a win on Saturday,” the senior said.
“For us to be 1-0 in league play at Christmas would be good,” Brey said. “Any league game you scratch out is a good one. My feeling is it’s going to be a dog fight because [Florida State is going to be] healthy and they know how to win league games.”
Notre Dame and Florida State will meet for the first time as ACC foes on the Purcell Pavilion floor Saturday at 8 p.m.
Additionally, the Irish will resume non-conference play over winter break Dec. 20 against in-state rival Purdue in Indianapolis for the Crossroads Classic as well as Northern Illinois (Dec. 22) and Hartford (Dec. 30) at home before jumping into the ACC full-time. Notre Dame will host Georgia Tech on Jan. 3, take a trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to face the Tar Heels on Jan. 5 and welcome Virginia to Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 10.