Grant leads Notre Dame into conference clash with Wake Forest
Mike Monaco | Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Roughly 11 months ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, Mike Brey walked off the court following Notre Dame’s first-round loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
Brey told reporters it was best to end the “saga” of the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame’s first losing season since 1998-99.
Fast forward 22 wins and 180 degrees later, and the No. 10 Irish will battle Wake Forest (12-14, 4-9) again Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Following Notre Dame’s 60-58 win over Clemson last Tuesday, the Irish (22-4, 10-3 ACC) had a much-appreciated bye weekend, a reprieve after seven games in 20 days.
“We were able to get a little rest and also get back into a good practice routine,” Brey said.
Brey hopes the extended practice time jump-starts Irish junior forward Zach Auguste, who tallied just two points against the Tigers (15-10, 7-6) on Feb. 7 following a scoreless showing against Duke.
“I think three, four days of practice is your best way to do it, getting into a lot of five-on-five Friday and Saturday. We scrimmaged a lot,” Brey said. “That’s your best way when a guy’s struggling to get back in a rhythm and get going again. I thought he was moving pretty good and in a pretty good flow.”
Brey said Irish senior guard Jerian Grant and senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton have been “key” in holding Auguste accountable. The senior leaders pulled Auguste aside last week following the Clemson game and “confronted” the big man before saying they have his back, Brey said.
“When you have that dynamic going on with a group, that is so powerful for a coach,” Brey said.
Grant himself helped carry the Irish to the win over Clemson, pouring in 22 points and adding five assists. The 6-foot-5 guard is one of just four players in the country — along with Hofstra junior guard Juan’ya Green, Northwestern State junior guard Jalan West and Oakland sophomore guard Kahlil Felder — averaging at least 17 points and six assists per game. Of the four, Grant is the only player shooting at least 50 percent from the floor.
“Nobody is more involved in an offense in the country than Jerian Grant, whether he’s scoring it or assisting on baskets,” Brey said. “He just makes plays for himself and for people.”
Brey added he doesn’t think there’s a better player in the country than Grant in crunch-time. The senior made crucial plays down the stretch against the Tigers — a steal and feed to Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and a clutch fadeaway jumper — en route to the victory.
“We have been an amazingly resilient group all year,” Brey said. “I think we actually believe the end of the game is our time. We have the ultimate closer in Jerian Grant.”
Notre Dame is now 7-2 in games decided by five points or fewer.
“They find ways to win close ballgames,” Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning said.
Manning’s Demon Deacons couldn’t do the same against No. 2 Virginia on Saturday. Wake Forest couldn’t muster a shot in its final possession and fell 61-60 to the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Demon Deacons have also suffered single-digit conference losses to Louisville, Duke (22-3, 9-3), Syracuse, Clemson and Florida State.
“We had a chance to get a win,” Manning said. “We just weren’t able to make the plays down the stretch. … We still need to tighten up some defensive rotations and value the ball a little bit throughout the course of the ballgame.”
Junior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (14.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) and junior forward Devin Thomas (12.3 points, 9.4 rebounds) pace the Demon Deacons.
Notre Dame and Wake Forest tip off Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.