Jackson to lead Irish at Duke
Brian Plamondon | Friday, January 15, 2016
Looking for consecutive wins in ACC play for the first time this season, Notre Dame travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on No. 9 Duke on Saturday.
The Irish (11-5, 2-2 ACC) will return to the venue where they suffered their most lopsided loss last year, falling to the Blue Devils (14-3, 3-1) 90-60 less than two weeks after beating them at home.
“You would hope that now that this nucleus has been in that atmosphere, they won’t be as wide-eyed,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said.
Despite the blowout last year, Brey said that game was the first time he started to see junior guard Demetrius Jackson as a team leader.
“Pat [Connaughton] and Jerian [Grant] didn’t have a lot to say, they were shell-shocked,” Brey said. “It was the only time all year that those two guys were shell-shocked, and I loved how Demetrius kind of took the baton so to speak. And I thought the rest of the season, his voice was more noticeable and more respected.”
This season, Jackson has become the focal point for the Irish, averaging 17.1 points per game and adding 5.4 assists per contest, but according to Brey, Jackson’s contributions are felt far beyond the stat sheet.
“He’s having an unbelievable season for us,” Brey said. “Defending, what he [does] on the defensive backboards, rebounding the ball. Wednesday night he really wasn’t in a great offensive flow … [but] some of the plays he made to [senior forward] Zach [Auguste] were key.”
Freshman forward Matt Ryan will join Jackson and Auguste in the starting lineup Saturday in what will be his second consecutive start in place of sophomore forward Bonzie Colson. After struggling to find consistency early in the season, Brey decided to make the switch for Wednesday’s Georgia Tech game, but he also said the Irish won’t look completely different.
“It’s not like we haven’t played stretches in a game with the group that started,” Brey said. “As a matter of fact, when we subbed Matt Ryan in early in the Boston College game, I think we went on a 9-0 run with that same group. The Iowa game, I thought Matt Ryan was fabulous in that game. We’ve got data on how that group plays. My feeling was let’s look at starting that way — it really opens the floor up. It helps Zach where he can roll down the middle of the floor, it helps our guards be able to drive it and make plays.”
While Cameron Indoor presents a unique atmosphere, Brey said he is banking on his older players guiding Ryan in his first road start.
“I think the biggest thing is to not play too fast when you’re a young guy in that atmosphere,” Brey said. “I think that crowd speeds you up and makes you try and do stuff maybe you shouldn’t do, especially offensively — you try and answer back maybe in the midst of a run.”
Duke, for its part, is 58-1 the past four seasons at Cameron Indoor. This season, five Blue Devil players are averaging double-digit points, led by sophomore guard Grayson Allen at 20.3 points per game. While Duke is ranked in the top-10 in the country and is coming off a national championship, the Blue Devils were tripped up Wednesday when Clemson upset them 68-63 at Clemson.
Brey said results like this in the ACC encourage him as the Irish enter conference play in full force.
“We certainly don’t have it figured out, but not a lot of other people do either,” Brey said. “So let’s just get back and keep practicing, keep plugging. You’re hovering around .500 in this league, you’re going to be in the mix.”
Brey, an assistant with the Blue Devils for eight seasons, will return to Duke when the Irish take on the Blue Devils on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.