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Grant, Connaughton lead Irish to season-opening victory

| Monday, November 17, 2014

Friday night marked not only Notre Dame’s season opener but also a return to action for the team’s two seniors, guard Jerian Grant and guard/forward Pat Connaughton, who came into the game off layoffs — a minor league baseball stint for Connaughton and a semester off for Grant due to an “academic matter.”

If Friday’s game was any indication, it seems as though Notre Dame’s two veterans didn’t miss a beat.

Behind a double-double from Connaughton and a 14-point effort from Grant, Notre Dame rolled to an 82-39 win over Binghamton at Purcell Pavilion on Friday night.

Connaughton said the win was a culmination of the team’s work following last year’s 15-17 season.

“At the end of last year, there were times where people were fighting … fighting to get better,” he said. “That started in the spring … that group of guys was really focused on getting better. Once Jerian got back in the summer, it just grew and once I got back at the end of the summer, I wanted to make sure it took off even more.

“It’s a matter of having the leaders at the front and then everybody else trying to get there.”

After falling behind 3-2 in the game’s opening minute, Notre Dame (1-0) scored the next 18 points, jumping out to a 20-3 lead with 12:20 remaining in the first half.

The Irish, starting four guards and one forward, pressured Binghamton (0-1) at the top of the key early and scored 12 first-half points off nine turnovers to take a 41-23 lead into the break.

Notre Dame forced 19 turnovers altogether, including 14 steals, five of which came from Grant.

Brey said Notre Dame’s defense is structured to put such pressure on opponents.

“One thing you say we can do is we can pressure the ball and contest,” he said. “Our defense will pick it up and look further out, and it’s not as much stay in front; we’re getting out at people.

“What it’s done, and [sophomore guard] Demetrius Jackson’s been the point man on this, it’s made offenses start their offenses further out and when Demetrius is pressuring the ball, that next wave of guys — Jerian, Pat, [sophomore guard] Steve [Vasturia] — can contest the passing lanes.”

The Irish showed few signs of slowing down to start the second half, as they opened it on a 13-3 run. Notre Dame took its biggest lead with 2:17 remaining in the game, when a jumper from freshman forward Bonzie Colson gave the Irish a 44-point cushion.

Notre Dame shot over 55 percent from the field in the game and limited the Bearcats to 26.5 percent shooting in the contest. Junior forward Zach Auguste finished with a career-high 19 points, Connaughton had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Jackson finished with 10 points and six assists.

Brey said Notre Dame’s four-guard offense allows the Irish to better distribute the ball.

“Our best years have been when we’ve been able to spread that floor in four around one and have some drivers and one guy in the post. … Right now, Zach has done a great job, [knowing] when to kick it out, when to score.”

Connaughton achieved a personal milestone in the second half, scoring his 1000th career point on a 3-point shot with 16:09 left in the game. Connaughton became the 56th player in Notre Dame history to join the 1000th-point club.

“This is a man playing college basketball, and I am so thrilled that he’s back with us and that he’s in the role of the voice as the captain,” Brey said of Connaughton. “He’s done a really good job with this group leading, but old reliable’s always there when you need him.”

Brey later added a personal milestone of his own, earning his 400th collegiate win. His first came as head coach of Delaware in 1995.

“I’ve had a heck of a lot of good players [at Delaware and Notre Dame], and I’ve read really good coaches ” he said. “I’ve been lucky.”

All 13 players on Notre Dame’s roster suited up for the Irish on Friday. Freshmen Martinas Geben, Colson, Matt Farrell, Matt Gregory and Colson all made their collegiate debuts.

Notre Dame will return to action Sunday afternoon when the Irish face Navy at Purcell Pavilion at 2 p.m.

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

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