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Men’s Basketball

ND looks to dodge letdown

| Thursday, December 4, 2014

After enjoying a little bonus basketball in its 79-78 overtime victory over Michigan State on Wednesday, Notre Dame resumes play Saturday night when the Irish host Fairleigh Dickinson at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame (7-1) secured its first victory over a ranked team this season in defeating the No. 19 Spartans. Despite being outrebounded by 17 boards, the Irish topped Michigan State largely on the strength of turnovers, committing only four to the Spartans’ 12, and the play of the team’s guards. Senior Jerian Grant scored a career-high 27 points and sophomore Demetrius Jackson added a career-best 22 points.

After Wednesday’s game, Irish head coach Mike Brey did not hold back in heaping praise on the two guards, whom he said formed “the best backcourt in the country.”

“They’re both really quick and athletic,” he said of the duo Wednesday night. “They have the ability to drive it and physically drive at your jugular, and when they meet big guys, they can draw fouls because they’re so strong.”

Brey said Jackson’s play over the course of the season has caused him to give the sophomore the green light to drive to the hoop more often.

“One of the things we started doing [Wednesday], which I think we can develop more of — it doesn’t always have to be Jerian off a ball screen,” Brey said. “It can be Demetrius off a ball screen and going at somebody’s throat. And I think that’s something I’m excited about nurturing when we get back to practice on Friday.”

Grant, Jackson, senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia each saw more than 40 minutes of playing time against Michigan State. But sophomore forward Austin Torres took over junior forward Zach Auguste’s spot in the paint and played 19 minutes overall, including the final 13:08 of the game.

Torres finished up with only two points, but Brey said the Granger, Indiana, native did everything he needed to down low, including slowing down Spartans senior guard/forward Branden Dawson.

“The thing is, [Torres] understands his role: do the dirty work, screen and rebound,” Brey said. “… He was the one guy that could give a physical presence on Dawson. That really helped us.”

Moving forward, Torres will likely see increased playing time, especially with sophomore forward V.J. Beachem out with plantar fasciitis, but his role on the team will not change, Brey said.

“[Torres] isn’t going to be taking any 3-point shots in practice [Thursday], I can tell you that much,” Brey joked. “He’s going to do the same thing every day. … [Wednesday was] a big night for him because he kind of solidifies himself in our rotation right now.”

Brey said the win over Michigan State will act as a confidence-booster as the Irish prepare for their final few games of the non-conference season.

“It’s a nice step for this group as we’re kind of getting into new territory,” he said. “I think this group is very level-headed. I want them to be more confident because of tonight, but [Thursday] is an off day, and we need it. We need to come back to work and work on some things before we play Saturday night.”

Notre Dame’s opponent Saturday night, Fairleigh Dickinson (3-3), will enter the game off an 89-85 home victory over Princeton on Wednesday. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Knights, who beat a St. Joseph’s team coming off an NCAA tournament appearance last season in their opener.

Senior guard Mustafaa Jones and sophomore guard Matt MacDonald lead the Knights in scoring with 15.5 and 14.7 points per game, respectively. MacDonald is also the team’s leader in rebounds with 5.8 boards per game.

Notre Dame and Fairleigh Dickinson will square off at 8 p.m. Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

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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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