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.