Irish grind out win with team effort on offense
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, March 20, 2015
There aren’t any pictures on a stats sheet, which was probably good for No. 3 seed Notre Dame during its 69-65 victory Thursday over 14th-seeded Northeastern.
The Irish (30-5, 14-4 ACC) ground out a victory, their first in an NCAA tournament since 2011, despite a strong challenge from the Huskies (23-12, 12-6 CAA).
“’I told them in the locker room, we weren’t going to beat them by 15,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “ … It’s a lot like our first game in Greensboro, [North Carolina,] the Miami game.”
However, despite raising the blood pressure of Irish fans everywhere, Notre Dame got key plays deserving of being framed on the wall.
As smooth as most of Zach Auguste’s 25 points were, the passes delivered to the junior forward by the Irish guards were picturesque. Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson finished with a career-high eight assists and senior guard Jerian Grant chipped in another five. Between the two, they registered an assist on nine of Auguste’s 10 field goals.
“I give a lot of credit to my teammates and my brothers,” Auguste said. “I got great passers, great distributors. … They find me easy buckets.”
“When you have Zach rolling, that’s why he had the night,” Brey said. “I give our team credit to know let’s keep doing this. … I thought Jerian and [Jackson] and [sophomore guard] Steve [Vasturia] really hit him on rolling situations all the time.”
One of Jackson’s helpers in particular stood out.
With Notre Dame leading 58-49 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, a mad scramble for the ball followed a couple of missed shots by the Huskies. The loose ball bounced to Jackson who spun around a defender, threw the ball around behind his back to cross-up another and finished by splitting two Huskies with a no-look bounce pass that hit Auguste in stride for a thunderous dunk.
“The ball was kind of loose and I picked it up and just kind of do some of the things I do and Zach did a great job of finishing strong,” Jackson said of the play.
The connection between the guards and Auguste has reached a high level of comfort, Jackson said.
“Zach’s a big target — easy target for me at 6-11 — so I’m just able to throw it up to him and know he’s going to catch the ball,” Jackson said. “We’ve been working together for so long, even going back to last year after practice he’s working on screen-and-roll and I’m throwing him the ball and stuff like that.”
The Irish finished with 19 assists on 27 field goals. Vasturia chipped in a couple of helpers while Auguste tallied his own pair late in the second half.
In addition to well-coordinated ball movement, Grant also came up with a pair of steals to seal the game down the stretch.
With the Irish up 65-61 with 1:24 remaining and momentum on the side of the Huskies, Grant stripped redshirt junior guard/forward Quincy Ford just over half-court and sprinted away for a dunk to push the lead to six. Then as time wound down and Northeastern with a chance to tie or take the lead, Grant finished off an Irish defensive stand by stripping Ford again. Grant knocked the ball to Auguste who was fouled and sunk two free-throws to ice the game.
“Just to make a play,” Grant said of what he was thinking on the final possession. “You really don’t want them to get a shot up at all. I’ve watched the NCAA tournament and crazy things happen. So I just wanted to make a play and try and get the ball.
“ … I think we defended the way we needed to and we ended up getting the win.”
“We felt if a shot got off [on the final Husky possession], the shot was probably going to go in, just with the way the momentum was shifting and the way that they were playing and the great offensive team they are,” senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton said.
“Jerian Grant is the ultimate, key, live in the moment guy,” Brey said. “ … He made two big steals to kind of let us escape.”
The Irish succeeded and now advance to the tournament’s third round, where they are awaited by sixth-seeded Butler. The Bulldogs (23-10) beat 11-seed Texas, 56-48. The teams will meet Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh — the time is still to be determined.