Notre Dame took to the road for the first time this season over the weekend, splitting a pair of games with Massachusetts and former Big East rival Providence in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Irish (4-1) beat Massachusetts, 81-68, on Saturday, but fell to Providence, 75-74, on Sunday in a game that came down to the final possession.Notre Dame trailed the Friars (5-0) by one point after Providence senior forward LaDontae Henton sunk two free throws with 14.8 seconds left. Irish senior guard Jerian Grant went for a layup, but was blocked by Providence freshman forward Ben Bentil. On the ensuing throw-in, senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton had a look at the rim, but Henton tipped his attempt as time expired.
“I thought maybe [Jerian] got bumped a little bit,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said in an interview with UND.com. “But you know, when you’re playing on the road, a lot of times you don’t get that call.”
Henton’s end-of-game block closed out a frenetic second half that featured several lead changes. Notre Dame, which trailed by four at the start of the half, took an 66-58 lead with 5:22 left in the game, but the Irish saw that lead evaporate less than two minutes later. The teams traded leads over the next few minutes, but Providence went ahead with Henton’s 38th point of the game, his career-high.
Henton made 14 of his 19 field-goal attempts, include four of eight 3-pointers.
“Henton was fabulous,” Brey said. “We had a hard time dealing with him, and we tried a couple different guys on him. We doubled him a couple of times, but he made every big shot.”
All five Notre Dame starters finished the game in double figures. Grant led the Irish in scoring with 20 points, while Connaughton scored 13 points and snatched 11 rebounds for the double-double. Junior forward Zach Auguste finished with 15 points and sophomore guards Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson totaled 11 points apiece.
“… I love our group,” Brey said. “There’s a lot to work with here, and I love our character and toughness.”
Brey said he was particularly impressed with the efforts of Grant, who scored 16 points in the second half.
“Jerian made unbelievable plays to make us believe,” he said. “… It’s great to have him back because he’s one of the great closers in the game.”
The Irish bested the Minutemen (4-1) on Saturday afternoon behind a 33-9 run to end the first half and start the second. Massachusetts jumped out to early leads of 19-9 and 24-15 before Notre Dame’s defense clamped down to limit it to only two field goals in the final eight minutes of the first half.
Grant led the team in scoring with 24 points on 10-of-13 field goals from the field while also dishing out a team-high eight assists. Connaughton chipped in 18 points while going 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point arc. Jackson and Auguste also registered double figures for the Irish, with 16 and 11 points respectively. Auguste recorded his first double-double of the season as he also pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Irish forced the Minutemen into 18 turnovers on the night. Jackson led the team with five steals while sophomore guard Steve Vasturia had four swipes of his own. However, the Irish also turned the ball over 17 times, well above their 8.3 turnovers per game average coming in to the game. Connaughton turned the ball over seven times after only turning the ball over twice combined in Notre Dame’s first three games.
The Irish turned those 18 takeaways into 23 points whereas the Minutemen managed only 17 points off Irish turnovers.
Notre Dame out-rebounded Massachusetts, 31-28, but gave up eight offensive rebounds, leading to eight Massachusetts second-chance points.
Notre Dame will return to action Wednesday night when the Irish host Grambling State at Purcell Pavilion at 7 p.m.