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Jackson scores 20, Irish beat Minnesota Duluth

| Sunday, November 2, 2014

Behind strong performances by sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Zach Auguste, Notre Dame cruised past Minnesota Duluth, 88-71, in an exhibition Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish began their season looking to move past a disappointing 2013-14 campaign during which they went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC.

Jackson and Auguste both put up 13 points in the first half as the Irish pulled away to a 44-31 halftime lead. Jackson finished the game with 20 points to lead the team, while Auguste tallied 19 points with eight rebounds. Jackson’s game high from last season was 17, and Auguste previous best was 15 in a game.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Jackson said. “In practices, we’re grinding and grinding, and we were just ready to get back on the same bench and play as a team and have fun again.”

Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson brings the ball up during Saturday’s exhibition win over Minnesota Duluth at Purcell Pavilion.Kevin Sabitus
Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson brings the ball up during Saturday’s exhibition win over Minnesota Duluth at Purcell Pavilion.
Jackson and Auguste made developmental strides while the team played in Italy over the summer, Irish coach Mike Brey said.

“The two guys I think we needed to get confident in Italy [during the summer] were [Auguste] and Demetrius,”  Brey said. “And if you watch, they’re feeling like they belong with those other three guys.”

“[Jackson and Auguste] had huge games,” senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton said. “Those are things that we’ve come to expect from those two throughout the fall. They wanted to do that. They wanted to be consistent, and that’s the biggest difference in them.”

Senior guard Jerian Grant, returning to the court for the Irish for the first time since December after serving an academic suspension, was quiet in the first 20 minutes of game play, registering only two points on three attempts from the field. Yet the senior managed to shake off the rust in the second half, finishing the game with 12 points while also leading the Irish with nine assists.

“He had 12 points, but you look at it and at halftime, he only had two,” Connaughton said. “You look at the assists, too. He affects the game in so many ways that might not even show up on the stat sheet. Just his presence out there gets guys’ attention, and his ability to pass and defend that we missed last year, we’re excited to have this year.”

“Grant gets everybody clean looks,” Brey said. “When he gets there, he’s finding guys. He just kind of let the game come to him. He’s gotten better, not wacky about, ‘Oh, I didn’t score in a while.’”

Freshman forward Bonzie Colson was a first-half surprise for Notre Dame. The 6-foot-5, 226-pounder from New Bedford, Massachusetts, snagged two offensive rebounds while also registering a steal that lead to a fast-break layup by Grant in only five minutes of play in the first half.

“I’ve got to bring him along,” Brey said. “He’s on the offensive boards. He’s around the ball. We have to groom him; there’s an instinct there that we’re going to need.”

The Irish finished the game shooting 51.6 percent (32-of-62) from the field with a 42.9 percent (9-for-21) 3-point percentage. Poor free-throw shooting hurt them though, as they made only 15 of 27 shots (55.6 percent) from the charity stripe. Brey said the team had usually been shooting in the 70 percent range during practices thus far.

“On the offensive end, I like all of our numbers except from the foul line,” Brey said. “Just from watching us in practice, I feel like we are going to be a better free-throw-shooting team. That’s always been a key weapon for us, but not today.”

Just under three minutes into the second half, Auguste took a pass from Jackson and emphatically slammed home a dunk over a Bulldog player that had his teammates jumping off the bench in celebration and gave the Irish a 50-33 lead. As he ran back down the court, he appeared to give a salute in the direction of the Minnesota Duluth player that was called a technical foul.

“We’ll deal with that kind of stuff later,” Brey said. “I was just happy he flushed it.”

Connaughton, who played minor league baseball this summer after being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, finished with 15 points as the fourth Notre Dame player to tally a double-digit point total. He also led the team with 11 rebounds, five of which came off the offensive glass. The Irish finished the game with a 45-33 rebounding advantage, yet Jackson and Connaughton said they were disappointed with the team’s effort on the defensive boards.

“We’d play a solid possession for a whole possession, but we have to finish it with a defensive rebound,” Jackson said. “That’s something we’ll watch on film.”

“We had a chance to put away this team for good tonight, and we weren’t able to do it because we didn’t get defensive rebounds and gave them second-chance points,” Connaughton said.

Senior center Brett Ervin led the Bulldogs with 29 points, and Minnesota Duluth as a whole shot 43.5 percent (10-for-23) from beyond the arc. Brey said afterwards that the team collapsed down on Ervin, who was able to kick balls out to his teammates for wide open 3s.

“[Ervin] is a really good player, and he was hard for us to deal with,” Brey said. “We ended up worrying about him a little bit and helping, and then he’s kicking out. … It’s an area we’ve got to address and keep coming back to.”

“There’s a bunch of potential on this team,” Connaughton said. “We played very well, but we still didn’t play as well as we think we can.”

The Irish host Lewis on Friday at Purcell Pavilion in their second and final exhibition game of the year. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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