Hartnett: Grant is ‘the guy’ for Notre Dame
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, January 29, 2015
With the shot clock about to expire late in yet another one of his team’s games that came down-to-the-wire, Jerian Grant appeared unfazed.
He regained a lost dribble to calmly hit a floater that put Notre Dame up 73-70 with a little over a minutes left.
On Notre Dame’s next possession, he found Steve Vasturia in the corner for another shot clock-beater, this one from beyond the arc.
Seconds later, he swatted away a shot from Quinn Cook to effectively seal No. 8 Notre Dame’s 77-73 victory over No. 4 Duke on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Grant’s end-of-game heroics capped a 23-point, 12-assist, six-rebound, three-steal and two-block performance in which he displayed himself as the top player on the court, even with freshmen phenoms Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones suited up for Duke.
In a game during which the Irish found themselves in a double-digit deficit once again, Grant took charge of the team in a manner befitting that of a senior leader.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Grant has had some impressive performances in a string of recent close games for the Irish, adding 25 points in the team’s comeback win against North Carolina State on Sunday and a similar 23-point performance in a second-half surge against Miami on Jan. 17.
Such recent inspired play seems to have inspired Grant’s head coach, Mike Brey, who has long cited the senior guard as being a crucial leader and half of one of the nation’s best backcourt tandems. Brey referred to Grant as both a “bright lights, big stage guy” and said he is “putting himself in position to be a very wealthy man next year,” referring to Grant’s rising draft stock.
Brey’s words may well ring true in June, when Grant will likely hear his name called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. But there’s a lot of basketball to be played before then, and Grant will play the most important role in dictating Notre Dame’s impending tournament fortunes.
Now, Grant is far from the only cog in Notre Dame’s machine-like offense. Pat Connaughton put up a quiet double-double Wednesday and manned the boards against a tall Duke frontcourt. Demetrius Jackson more than held his own against Jones and scored all seven of his second-half points during a 14-2 run that put Notre Dame back ahead. Zach Auguste scored 14 points in 22 minutes of action. And Vasturia emerged out of a game-long shooting slump with one of the biggest baskets of the night.
Combined, those factors have led to Notre Dame’s surprise emergence as one of the top teams in the nation, something that many both on- and off-campus are beginning to notice.
But as much fun as regular-season basketball is — and Wednesday night was certainly a treat — it’s a little different from the do-or-die atmosphere of playoff hoops. Notre Dame fans know this well, as the Irish have several strong regular-season teams fade away in the frenzy of the NCAA tournament in recent years.
Playoff basketball might force the Irish to potentially play teams that hold a significant height and rebounding advantage over them. It might force the Irish to confront an opponent who can disrupt their ball movement and halt their outside shooting. And it might even force the Irish to snap out of their pattern of falling into double-digit second-half deficits.
But one important ingredient in a recipe for playoff success is a player who can step up when the stakes are the highest and get his team going when no one else can provide a spark.
We’ve seen this player emerge almost like clockwork in recent years — think Shabazz Napier last season, Anthony Davis in 2012 and Kemba Walker the year before that.
For the Irish to finally snap their playoff funk, to make it to the tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2003, they’ll need someone to be that guy.
And all signs of this year’s leading candidate point to Grant. It’s a role that might not suit his natural personality, but one that he has shown himself to assume time and time again this season, perhaps on no stage bigger than the one where he found himself Wednesday night.
He’ll soon find himself on bigger stages, ones in Durham, Louisville, Greensboro and wherever the NCAA selection committee sends the Irish. And for the Irish to exit those stages with continued success, Grant will have to be as wholly unfazed as he was Wednesday night.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.