ND offense explodes in road win against Hokies
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, January 22, 2015
After playing down to the wire in its last five conference games, No. 8 Notre Dame gave itself some breathing room on the road Thursday, riding hot 3-point shooting to earn an 85-60 victory over Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia.
With the victory, the Irish (18-2, 6-1 ACC) are off to their best start since the 1973-1974 season when Notre Dame won 23 of its first 24 games. Notre Dame is also off to its best conference start since the 2002-2003 season, when the Irish jumped out to 6-1 in Big East play.
“I thought we really focused,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a postgame interview with UND.com. “… Our defense was great both halves; we were in a really good offensive rhythm.
“… Some of our transition decisions were just beautiful basketball. I just don’t think a lot of teams can play like us.”
Notre Dame shot 49.2 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from 3-point range, hitting 12-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc. The Irish also held a 43-29 advantage on the boards against the Hokies (8-10, 0-5) and forced nine turnovers, which largely led to 15 fast break points.
“I think when we run, we really have a great feel,” Brey said. “We’re very unselfish, we throw ahead, we’ve got big guys running the floor.
“We love playing together, and when we get in our rhythm, we’re really hard to guard.”
Junior forward Zach Auguste returned to Notre Dame’s starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 10. Auguste, the team’s second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, didn’t travel with the team to Georgia Tech on Jan. 14 due to an academic matter and came off the bench in the team’s win Saturday against Miami.
Auguste scored eight of Notre Dame’s first 14 points, sparking the Irish to an early 17-8 lead. Virginia Tech thrice closed its deficit to seven points in the first half, but each time Notre Dame answered, twice with 3-pointers and once with a layup.
“I thought it was a big night for Zach Auguste to come back and be that guy for us after a week of some distractions academically,” Brey said. “That was a key for him.”
After taking a 38-28 lead into halftime, the Irish showed few signs of slowing down, as they scored nine of the first 12 points in the second half. Notre Dame extended its lead to 20 points on a 3-pointer by senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton with 12 minutes to go and led by as many as 29 in the contest.
After scoring 23 points Saturday, senior guard Jerian Grant led the team with 18 points and six assists and added seven rebounds.
“There’s not anybody playing better than Jerian Grant in the country,” Brey said. “What he is doing, some of the passes he throws … man, does he stir the drink for us.”
Three other Irish starters ended up with double-figure points. Connaughton totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double, making five of his six shots from 3-point range. Auguste finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, and sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson had 12 points.
Notre Dame will continue its conference road-trip Sunday night when the Irish meet North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (13-7, 4-3) lost to Miami, 65-60, on Thursday and have lost three of their last five games, though they did pick up a victory over No. 5 Duke during that stretch.
North Carolina State has been led by redshirt junior guard Trevor Lacey and redshirt senior guard Ralston Turner, who have averaged 17. 1 points per game and 13.7 points per game, respectively. The Wolfpack topped the Irish, 77-70, in the teams’ meeting at Purcell Pavilion last season.
With wins in its first three conference road games, Notre Dame is beginning to establish itself as a strong road opponent, Brey said.
“I think they’re starting to get a little bit of a road swagger,” Brey said of his squad. “They’re even starting to use the term ‘road dogs.’”
Notre Dame will look to continue its hot start when the Irish face off against North Carolina State on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.