Notre Dame looks to stay perfect in ACC road play
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, January 29, 2015
No. 8 Notre Dame is only the second team in the NCAA to reach 20 wins thus far into the season, and after a win against No. 4 Duke on Wednesday, it is riding a five-game winning streak into a matchup with Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Although the Irish (20-2, 8-1 ACC) are second in the conference, four of their last five contests have been comeback victories. Jan. 14 against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame was down by 12 near the end of the first half to Georgia Tech on Jan. 14 before storming back to win. The Irish also mounted a comeback win after being down 12 points against Miami (Fl.) on Jan. 17. Notre Dame overcame an 18-point deficit against North Carolina State on Sunday, and Irish senior guard Jerian Grant led yet another comeback Wednesday after his team trailed by 10 points midway through the second half.
“It’s the winning mentality,” senior guard and team captain Pat Connaughton said of his team’s recent comebacks. “There’s just something about us that when we’re down, we never think we are out. We are able to rally around each other; someone sets a spark, and then we’re able to make plays. I think we’d like to improve so that we don’t get ourselves in those kinds of situations.”
Irish coach Mike Brey said a lot of the credit for Notre Dame’s comebacks belongs to Connaughton and Grant.
“We make a habit of [falling behind], but you can’t say enough about our two seniors,” Brey said.
Saturday, Notre Dame puts its undefeated ACC road record on the line against Pittsburgh (13-8, 3-5). The Panthers started out the season 7-0 at home, but they are just 2-2 at Petersen Events Center in conference play after dropping games to Clemson and No. 10 Louisville.
The Panthers have struggled this season, ranking 183rd nationally in points per game (67.3), 175th in rebounds (34.9) and 165th in field-goal percentage (43.7%). Pittsburgh, which finished 11-7 in the ACC last season, lost guard Lamar Patterson and forward Talib Zanna, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, respectively, to graduation. Sophomore forward Michael Young has taken the reigns as Pittsburgh’s scorer this season, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding with 13.2 points and 7.8 boards per game.
Last season, Pittsburgh defeated the Irish, 85-81, in overtime at Purcell Pavilion on March 1; however, Grant did not play in that game. This year, the senior has solidified himself as one of the best players in the country, and Brey said Grant deserves to be considered among college basketball’s elite.
“He’s got a big basketball IQ,” Brey said of Grant. “He knows our sets, he knows our system. He loves the moment. He is such a bright lights, big stage guy. He’s really clutch.”
In three of the team’s last four games, Grant has scored at least 23 points and dished out at least six assists. His 6.7 assists per game are tied for seventh in the country. The senior said he believes Notre Dame has become an elite team after a 15-win year last season.
“We are definitely up there,” Grant said. “Obviously, [No. 2] Virginia is undefeated. They came in here and beat us, but hopefully we get another shot at them. I definitely think that we are in the top tier. ”
The Irish look to push their winning streak to six games when they travel to the Peterson Events Center to play Pittsburgh on Saturday at 12 p.m.