Seniors stay cool, calm in tight win over Clemson
Mike Monaco | Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Pat Connaughton stood patiently with the ball on the left wing.
The senior then looked to his right and delivered a pass to fellow senior Jerian Grant, who calmly sank a deep 3-pointer as time expired.
Grant’s buzzer-beating long ball pulled No. 10 Notre Dame within two points of Clemson at the end of the first half, and the senior leaders went on to lead the Irish (22-4, 10-3 ACC) in the second half to a hard-fought 60-58 victory over the Tigers (14-10, 6-6) at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday night.
“Jerian was flat-out fabulous making plays for us,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said in his postgame radio interview.
With the Irish leading by two points with roughly 90 seconds to go in the second half, Grant slowly dribbled down the clock, waiting in the Clemson paw at midcourt. The senior guard drove right and pulled up for a jumper.
But Connaughton skied for the offensive rebound and heaved it back out to Grant in one motion.
Grant milked the clock again. This time, he drained the right-elbow jumper to lift the Irish ahead by four with 42.8 seconds left.
Grant poured in a game-high 22 points and tallied five assists, while Connaughton added 14 points and six rebounds. The two upperclassmen combined to make up 60 percent of Notre Dame’s scoring.
Brey was his typically optimistic self after Notre Dame’s 90-60 thrashing at the hands of Duke on Saturday.
“I would think this group will bounce back very quick,” Brey said to reporters in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, citing the leadership of his seniors. “They’ve been through a lot.”
And while it wasn’t pretty three days later against the Tigers, Grant and Connaughton ensured the Irish made the bounce back.
“They know what we’ve gotta get better at, and they know the big picture of the season,” Brey said of his team during Monday’s ACC teleconference.
Although Grant dropped 12 points in the first half, Clemson led by as many as eight in the opening stanza. Grant and Connaughton went to work in the second half.
Connaughton finished on a tough drive to the rack in the opening minutes after the intermission and added a 3-pointer moments later to put the Irish ahead by two points.
And as Clemson senior guard Damarcus Harrison remained scorching hot — he made his first five shots, including three long balls — Grant and Connaughton kept Notre Dame’s ship steady. Grant buried a beautiful, crowd-quieting fadeaway jumper, found slashing sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an easy layup and picked off a Clemson pass that set up another Connaughton 3-pointer at the other end midway through the second half.
Clemson kept battling, and Harrison kept drilling jumpers. But Grant sneakily swiped away a short outlet pass in the backcourt and finished with an easy lay-in to get the Irish back within one with roughly five minutes remaining. A few minutes later, Grant forced another steal on the perimeter that prompted a layup by sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson.
And in the end, Notre Dame held on.
The Irish have an off day today and will reconvene Thursday in preparation for Tuesday’s matchup with Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion.