Eric Atkins comes up big in Notre Dame’s overtime victory over Canisius

1 Comment

With the announcement that leading scorer Jerian Grant was done for the season for academic reasons, it was clear that Notre Dame needed to figure out how they would account for the 19.0 points and 6.2 assists per game that the senior provided. Given Grant’s impact on both ends of the floor, this is not a situation in which the Fighting Irish simply “replace” him with one of their young bench players.

But in their tough 87-81 overtime victory over Canisius on Sunday afternoon, the way in which Notre Dame will account for that personnel loss was crystal clear.

Eric Atkins, who entered the game shooting just 39.8% from the field, played every second and accounted for a career-high 30 points (10-for-15 FG) and seven assists to lead the way for Notre Dame. He was joined in double figures by forwards Garrick Sherman (17 points, ten rebounds) and Zach Auguste (12 points, eight rebounds), and Notre Dame also received some valuable contributions from their newcomers.

Demetrius Jackson, who will be a key figure moving forward alongside Atkins and Pat Connaughton on the perimeter, V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia all provided valuable minutes against Canisius, with Billy Baron and company giving Notre Dame all it wanted and then some. That freshman trio may have combined for “just” 15 points, but if Notre Dame is to have any shot of getting to the NCAA tournament without Grant they’ll need to chip in.

On Sunday afternoon they did that, and as a result Notre Dame avoided what would have been a third home loss of the season with a game against No. 9 Duke next on the horizon.

But the most important development for Notre Dame moving forward is the play of Atkins, who was aggressive offensively in the team’s first game without Grant. With Grant on the floor Atkins attempted just six shots in Notre Dame’s stunning loss to No. 3 Ohio State last weekend, and it’s obvious that Mike Brey will need his point guard to be even more aggressive now that Grant’s gone.

Notre Dame’s done this before under Brey, with suspensions (Kyle McAlarney) and injuries (Scott Martin, Luke Harangody and Tim Abromaitis) simply resulting in the formation of a “new” team that still found a way to be successful. With those prior successes in mind, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to rule out Notre Dame this season.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
Getty Images
Leave a comment

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”