Irish look to keep win streak going
Zach Klonsinski | Tuesday, November 18, 2014
After blowing past Binghamton and Navy to start the season last weekend, Notre Dame looks to continue its hot start tonight when it hosts Coppin State for a midweek non-conference matchup at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (2-0) clinched the pair of early victories thanks to the return of seniors guard Jerian Grant and guard/forward Pat Connaughton, as well as the developments of sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Zach Auguste.
Grant, who was named to the John R. Wooden Award watch list for the second consecutive year Tuesday, averaged 15.5 points per game last weekend and recorded a double-double Sunday against the Midshipmen (0-2), after scoring 17 points and dishing out 10 assists.
“It’s always exciting to get a double-double,” Grant said. “It means a lot to me [to get 10 assists]. It means you’re getting your teammates involved. It means you’re being aggressive. It means other people are making shots, which is the most important part because you can’t get assists without someone making the shot, which is great for us.”
The 6-foot-5 Connaughton averaged 15 points, as the team captain continues the consistent production he’s given the Irish throughout his career. He also became the 56th player in Notre Dame history to record 1,000 career points after a 3-pointer in the second half against Binghamton (0-2).
“We were able to hang our hat on the defense [against Navy],” Connaughton said. “That’s a good thing, to have that happen early in the season when we have been focusing on defense all summer and in the off-season, to be able to rely on the defense when our offense is not clicking is really key for us.”
Auguste, who Irish coach Mike Brey has said needs to become a presence inside, put up a combined 39 points in the two games. The junior recorded his career-high of 19 against the Bearcats on Friday and then one-upped it Sunday with 20 against Navy.
“I want to be the main guy in the middle,” Auguste said. “I think I have a great impact on the game, but I’ve got to give credit to my teammates. They’ve been finding me. I’ve been hanging around the hoop and they just find me.”
“I love that [Auguste]’s scoring for us,” Brey said. “I think he’s still a work-in-progress in his post defense and I think that’s an area we’re going to be after him about. He’s come a long way and is very good at showing the ball screen and being athletic that way.”
Brey said Jackson is the quarterback of the Irish offense. However, an area of concern that has carried over from last year is his turnovers. Against the Bearcats, Jackson only turned the ball over once in 31 minutes of play, but lost possession three times in 27 minutes against Navy.
“Today, he was a little loose with the ball,” Brey said. “At the end of the game he came up to me and said, ‘I’ll be better with the ball.’”
Brey said he was pleased with how his defense performed, especially in the first half against Navy when the offense was struggling.
“We weren’t in much of a rhythm on offense in the first half, but … it didn’t carry over to us defensively,” Brey said. “That’s an area we really needed to grow in from last year, and showed some really good signs of that. One of the things we talk about is ‘kills.’ ‘Kills’ consists of three stops in a row. … [Against Navy] we had 10 kills.
“It was also good to see how we were going to play when [Jackson] got in foul trouble.”
Brey said the early season was an important time for Notre Dame to really develop as a team.
“We need confidence, we must have trust in each other, we need to not panic, and we need to play possession by possession, and not give up on the defensive end,” Brey said. “We’ll have our screws turned on … and we will see how we react to pressure.”
Notre Dame and Coppin State (0-2) are scheduled to face off tonight at Purcell Pavilion at 7 p.m.