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Men’s Basketball: Irish win season opener over Miami (Ohio)

Sam Gans | Friday, November 8, 2013

The No. 21 Irish got out to a dominating start and managed to hold on to win their season opener over Miami (Ohio), 74-62, on Friday night in Purcell Pavilion.

Senior guard Jerian Grant led the way for Notre Dame (1-0), as he notched a career-high 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting while hitting five of eight shots from 3-point range. Grant made his first five field goals attempts – four from downtown. Senior point guard and captain Eric Atkins assisted on four of Grant’s first five baskets.

“Guys are telling me to come out aggressive and that’s what I’m doing,” Grant said. “When our point guard tells [me] he’s going to get me open to shoot the ball that gives me a lot of confidence.”

The Irish came out of the game firing and opened a 26-10 lead with 8:53 to play in the first half, but the RedHawks (0-1) responded strongly to cut their deficit to seven points, 39-32, at the break. Notre Dame was consistently in control during the second half, but could never break the game open like it did in 95-69 and 93-44 preseason wins over Indianapolis and Tusculum, respectively.

“The way it starts out, you think it’s going to be maybe like the exhibition games,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “And they make a run, which is what college basketball is all about and you can’t really get away from them and there’s some game pressure on you. I love that it wasn’t easy for us.”

Notre Dame often employed a small lineup against Miami’s quick roster, which resulted in heavy minutes for 227-pound sophomore forward Austin Burgett in place of starters senior center Garrick Sherman and graduate student forward Tom Knight.

Burgett, who played just 60 minutes over 18 games as a freshman, played 24 minutes Friday – more than both Knight and Sherman – and finished with seven points. Notre Dame’s other big man, sophomore Zach Auguste, was limited to just eight minutes after he sat out both exhibition games due to injury.

“I thought Austin Burgett was a key tonight, because it was hard to play two big guys and he gave us a defensive guy on a smaller forward … and he helped us move,” Brey said. “It wasn’t a night for two big guys.”

Both Sherman and Knight struggled on the glass for the Irish, finishing with just four rebounds each. The two big men combined for only one rebound after 20 minutes, as the 6-foot-2 Atkins was Notre Dame’s leader at halftime with four and 6-foot-5 junior forward and captain Pat Connaughton ended the night on top with seven.

“I need to rebound better. … That’s not okay,” Knight said. “I need to focus more on the rebounding side and I think it will definitely be something we focus on in practice.”

Although Knight struggled on the boards, he shot a strong 5-for-7 from the field and finished with 13 points. Connaughton and Atkins also reached double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

After the game, Brey announced sophomore forward Cam Biedscheid would redshirt this season, following a path taken by Grant and Knight and former Irish all-Big East forward Tim Abromaitis. Brey said the decision will allow Biedscheid to spend more time in the weight room and focus a lot on development in practice, rather than worrying about impressing the coaching staff for playing time.

“We’ve made a decision on a five-year program,” Brey said. “He and I have talked about it for about a week [and] methodically have come to that decision that I think it’s just best for him all the way around in his development.”

Biedscheid said he asked Grant, who sat out as a freshman, for advice when making the decision.

“I talked to him for a pretty long time one weekend and he was just telling me how it really helped him and how it really benefitted his game and his academics,” Biedscheid said. “So it definitely pushed me towards making the decision.

“Taking this year off will benefit me strength-wise, skill-wise and academic-wise, and I need growth in all those areas.”

The Irish return to the floor Sunday at 1 p.m. when they host Stetson.

Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]