ND buckles down for ‘Canes
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, January 15, 2015
Coming off a 62-59 win over Georgia Tech on the road, No. 12 Notre Dame will host a hot Miami team on Saturday.
The Irish (16-2, 4-1 ACC) will play the Hurricanes (12-4, 2-1 ACC), which upset No. 4 Duke on Tuesday. After Miami beat the Blue Devils on the road by 16 points, Irish players acknowledged the threat Miami presents in Saturday’s matchup.
“They’re a hot team,” senior guard Jerian Grant said of the Hurricanes. “They’re coming in with a lot of confidence. Not a lot of people beat Duke on the road like they did … but we have a lot of confidence at home, too. We lost the last one here, so to be able to get back out here and play against a great team, it’s going to be fun.”
Grant said beating Miami would be critical for the team to move up in the national rankings.
“Coming off last year, where we were struggling, but being able to be 5-1 [in the ACC] and maybe even ranked in the top 10, it’s going to be huge,” Grant said.The last time the two teams faced each other, Miami bested Notre Dame, 71-64, in their first matchup as ACC foes last season. One difference this season is the presence of Grant, who is a midseason finalist for the Wooden Award, leading the Irish in scoring with 16.3 points per game and dishing out 6.3 assists per game.
Senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton said he recognizes Miami has also emerged as one of the elite teams in the ACC.
“They’re a very good team, obviously, after beating Duke,” Connaughton said. “Obviously, every team in this league is a very good team, but they have capabilities to really go off, night in and night out. They’re the best team in the ACC as far as we’re concerned for the next two days getting ready for this game.”
Notre Dame might be without Auguste manning the paint for the second straight game. The junior did not make the trip to Atlanta on Wednesday for the team’s win against Georgia Tech due to an academic matter, leaving the Irish without their second-leading scorer and rebounder. Along with scoring 14.3 points per game and recording 6.4 rebounds per game, Notre Dame will be missing one of the most efficient scorers in the nation Saturday.
“Nobody is really yelling at him or anything,” Grant said “He’s texting us and letting us know to keep our heads up and just go out there and get the win.”
As someone who has also dealt with academic issues, Grant said Auguste needs to stay optimistic.
“[He] just needs to keep his head up,” Grant said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I think he’ll be alright.”
Connaughton also said that even if Auguste does not suit up against the Hurricanes, the team will continue to play like a contending team.
“I think we’ve grown in areas like that,” Connaughton said. “We’ve had struggles like that, and we see it sometimes across Notre Dame campus in other sports teams. They struggle, and things like that unfortunately happen. We didn’t want to have that as an excuse.
“We had quote-unquote ‘excuses’ last year, and we didn’t want to have to back on those again. I think it made us focus a little harder and work a little harder and get contributions from people who were ready to step up when the time was called.”
The next man up against Georgia Tech was freshman forward Bonzie Colson. Although he didn’t start, Colson contributed 10 points and four rebounds in the 22 minutes he was on the court.
“Bonzie is a great kid on and off the court, and I think if you watch some of our practices, you’d say that he works very hard, day in and day out,” Connaughton said. “A lot of us were expecting him to have a great game. One of the most impressive things about Bonzie, especially as a freshman in a program like this on a team that is very successful, is that he hasn’t gotten the minutes that he may have wanted early on in the season, but that’s never faltered his presence or the way he felt and showed emotion. … He is one of the louder voices in the locker room and the huddles.”
Colson said the team played hard for Auguste in its comeback win against Georgia Tech.
“That game was for Zach; we had to come through for him,” Colson said. “Just as a unit, we had to come through and to get the win for him was great.”
Looking towards the matchup against Miami, Colson brought up Irish coach Mike Brey’s motto of “next man up.”
“You always should be ready no matter what happens,” Colson said. “You just have to be ready and when the coaching staff said I was ready, I was ready.”
The Irish will look to improve to 5-1 in the ACC on Saturday when they face Miami at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.