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Men’s Basketball: Pair of victories begins season

Sam Gans and Mike Monaco | Sunday, November 10, 2013

No. 21 Notre Dame opened up its season with a pair of victories over the weekend, defeating Miami (Ohio), 74-62, on Friday night and dominating Stetson, 80-49, on Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (2-0) opened up a 30-point lead by halftime Sunday and never looked back in defeating the Hatters (0-2). Ten players saw time for Notre Dame, and all logged at least 12 minutes, as no starter needed to play more than 27 minutes.
“What I was really happy about this afternoon was that our older guys got off to such a good start,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “It allowed me to play our younger guys long minutes and together in a game situation, which is just a great experience for them. And the young guys played the way we play. I loved how they played together.
“So it was a good day for us, early in the season, trying to figure out our young guys. We know who our older guys are.”
Irish graduate student center Garrick Sherman bounced back from a slow start Friday to pour in 15 points Sunday. Senior guard Jerian Grant tied for the team lead with 15 of his own.
Notre Dame stormed out to a 17-3 lead, powered by a pair of threes from junior guard/forward Pat Connaughton and one from Grant. But the Hatters came back on an 8-0 run, only to see Notre Dame extend it back to 28-14 with 8:16 to play in the first half. The Irish opened shooting 5-for-7 from 3-point range after hitting 10 of 21 long-range tries on Friday.
From there, Notre Dame kept pouring it on, going on a 13-4 run to extend the advantage to 41-18, thanks to unselfish passing and efficient scoring. The Irish nailed 15 of their first 25 shots and assisted on 12 of the buckets.
Freshman guard Demetrius Jackson mixed power with touch to close the first half, driving strongly to the hoop for two and coming right back to bury a three, as Notre Dame went into the halftime break leading 51-21. In total, Jackson tallied nine points, three rebounds and three assists.
“I think the key is attacking,” Brey said. “He was a little sheepish the other night, but we talked to him yesterday and I talked to him this morning and I said ‘Would you just attack? Would you just go?’ … I thought he took a big step forward attacking. I also thought he was more solid defensively.”
Notre Dame was able to dip into the bench early and often throughout the afternoon and often had its five backups – freshman forward V.J. Beachem, freshman guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia and sophomore forwards Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett – playing together.
“We’re really getting the system down and playing well together,” Burgett said. “So we just did what we did in practice and didn’t get out of character.”
The second half began slowly, as each team plodded along. Notre Dame outscored Stetson 14-13 in the first 12:15 of the second half, and the play went back and forth the rest of the way with the Irish lead never shrinking below 27 points.
On Friday night, Grant led the way for Notre Dame, 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 including four from downtown. Senior point guard 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.
“The way it starts out, you think it’s going to be maybe like the exhibition games,” 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.”
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, 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.
Both Sherman and Knight brought down four rebounds apiece on the night after combining for only one rebound after 20 minutes, as the 6-foot-2 Atkins was Notre Dame’s leader at halftime with four and the 6-foot-5 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.”
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 [sitting out] 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 Purcell Pavilion on Sunday to square off with Indiana State.
Contact Sam Gans at [email protected] and Mike Monaco at [email protected]