One of the big issues for Notre Dame in their 73-69 loss to North Dakota State on Wednesday night was the play of senior guard Jerian Grant. The team’s leading scorer and assist man, Grant accounted for nine points and five assists, failing to make a single field goal in 39 minutes of action. Neither he nor Eric Atkins were able to get untracked against the preseason favorites to win the Summit League, resulting in a third loss for the Fighting Irish this season without a significant resume-building victory to their credit.
“Grant couldn’t really get any angles to the bucket,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said following the defeat. “He was getting us shots but we couldn’t make them. He was starting to kick to shooters like he usually does, but for him not to make a field goal is a big hole in our offense. He’s been on a tear, but not so good tonight.”
Grant had no such issues against Indiana on Saturday afternoon, scoring a team-high 23 points on 5-for-13 shooting (11-for-11 FT) and dishing out six assists in Notre Dame’s 79-72 victory. Grant’s field goal percentage may not have been great, but when Grant’s making good use of his ability to attack defenses good things tend to happen for Notre Dame as a whole. One of the beneficiaries on this day was senior big man Garrick Sherman, who accounted for 16 points and five rebounds, and at times on the block Indiana had no answer for him.
Through ten games this season Sherman’s been a much-improved player for Notre Dame, averaging 14.4 points (compared to 7.0 ppg last season) and 7.5 rebounds (3.4 rpg) per contest and shooting 52.5% from the field. With Grant, Eric Atkins (seven points vs. Indiana), Pat Connaughton (14 points, eight rebounds) and Demetrius Jackson (five points) Notre Dame once again has multiple players capable of scoring on the perimeter.
However for this offense to be at its best there has to be some semblance of balance and while he may not be in the class of a Luke Harangody or Jack Cooley, through 11 games Sherman has been the interior scoring threat that Notre Dame needs.
Will Sheehey led three Hoosiers in double figures with 22 points, and the bench contributions from Stanford Robinson (six points) and Austin Etherington (five points) could be positives down the line if the two reserves can build on those performances. But in the end they were unable to overcome a ten-point disparity at the foul line (Notre Dame attempted 14 more free throws), and Jerian Grant returning to form didn’t help matters either.
Notre Dame was more efficient offensively against the Hoosiers than they were against North Dakota State, and that doesn’t happen if Grant isn’t aggressive. He isn’t the only capable scorer in the rotation, but he’s the key if the Fighting Irish are to be a factor in the ACC.