Irish parry Knights to escape upset
Zach Klonsinski | Sunday, December 7, 2014
After Wednesday night’s overtime victory over No. 19 Michigan State, Notre Dame took a while to get going Saturday night.
On a night when four teams who won during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge lost their games, the Irish (8-1) pulled away late in the first half to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson, 75-57, extending their winning streak to four games.
“That was a tough one,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They are hard to play against because they are so athletic defensively, moving around, match-up zone, defensive press, long possessions, ball screens and quick guards. I think defense was the answer for us. We weren’t in the best of offensive rhythms.”“We know all too well from last year there are those non-big name teams who have great players, and this was one of those teams,” senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton said. “They played us tough in the first half, and it was just a matter of methodically extending the lead.”
No. 17 Michigan, Purdue, Miami and Georgia Tech all lost games Saturday, and Notre Dame had plenty of fight on its hands to avoid being added to that list.
After the Knights (3-4) cut Notre Dame’s lead to 15-14 with 7:48 remaining in the first half, the Irish used a 17-8 run to go into halftime with a 32-22 cushion. Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson sparked Notre Dame as it began to seize control of the game, converting two 3-point plays on high-flying finishes in the paint. Senior guard Jerian Grant completed his own 3-point opportunity during the run as well. Grant finished with 15 points, while Jackson tallied eight of his own to go along with a team-high four assists.
“Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson have a great tone of leadership,” Brey said. “One thing that is clear is that Demetrius Jackson is becoming more of a voice and a leader in that locker room. And that’s a good thing.”
“We have older guys who know every game counts,” Grant said. “Some may be bigger than others, but every game counts as a win or a loss so we came in focused.”
The Irish extended their lead to 18 points after Connaughton knocked down three of his team-high 19 points with 12:24 remaining in the second half. Notre Dame led by as much as 20 over the final 12 minutes, yet the Knights used strong 3-point shooting to keep the game interesting, drawing within 11 points on a shot from downtown by freshman guard Marques Townes with 6:43 to play. The Irish went on a 9-0 run to push the lead to 20, however, and seized control for good.
Freshman guard Matt Farrell, who entered the matchup averaging 4.8 minutes per game, matched that figure in the first half alone, entering the period with just over four minutes remaining. When asked why he brought in the freshman so early, Brey said he wanted to see how Farrell played with sophomore guard V.J. Beachem out with a foot injury.
“He’s just another perimeter player and I wanted to look at that,” Brey said. “It was a really good matchup because they are small and they were playing four guards. … We have a logjam of forwards and we want[ed] to get a guard in there and evaluate that this week.”
Farrell saw eight total minutes on the night, finishing with three points.
Despite a large size disparity between the two teams, Notre Dame was unable to translate its advantage into substantial control of the boards. Led by junior forward Zach Auguste’s 11 rebounds, the Irish only out-rebounded the Knights 41-30. Auguste did register a double-double on the night, matching his rebound total with 11 points. The solid performance after a tough game against Michigan State was very important, Auguste said.
“I was looking forward to bouncing back from last game,” Auguste said. “We had a great team win [against Michigan State], but individually I wanted to help out the team.”
“I told [Auguste] before the game, ‘Be the leading rebounder,’” Brey said. “That’s a great way to bounce back, and getting 11 rebounds, I thought he really tried to digest that. … He was strong around the basket and he was active getting the ball off the backboard on both ends.”
Notre Dame continues its non-conference play Tuesday when it hosts Mount St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.