Entering Wednesday’s showdown with No. 4 Duke, No. 8 Notre Dame trailed by double digits in five of the eight ACC games they had played. And outside of their home loss to No. 2 Virginia, Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish have successfully erased those deficits. That was once again the case Wednesday, as Notre Dame overcame a ten-point second half deficit to beat the Blue Devils 77-73 in South Bend.
And the star was none other than senior guard Jerian Grant, whose name has to figure prominently in the races for ACC and national Player of the Year. And in all honesty, given the way Grant has played all season long this should have already been the case.
Grant finished the game with 23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, and he impacted the game on both ends of the floor down the stretch as Notre Dame completed its comeback. There was the improbable floater in the middle of the lane with 1:11 remaining, and his assist to Steve Vasturia for a corner three that proved to be the dagger came about 40 seconds later.
Grant followed up that assist with a block of a Quinn Cook shot ten seconds later, with that defensive play hammering the final nail in the coffin. In a game in which both teams had areas they could exploit on the offensive end, Notre Dame won out in the end but this was just as much about what Duke couldn’t do as it was what the Fighting Irish did.
Duke missed numerous attempts around the basket, failing to take advantage of the 13 offensive rebounds they collected on the night. Add in the fact that they made just ten of their 20 free throws, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team left points on the board and that cost them in the end. Jahlil Okafor accounted for 22 points, 17 rebounds and three assists, leading four Blue Devil starters in double figures, with Justise Winslow (3-for-4 3PT, 13 points) snapping out of his five-game shooting slump.
But even with the ability to point towards those missed opportunities on the offensive end of the floor, Wednesday’s defeat showed that the Blue Devils still have work to do defensively. Notre Dame shot nearly 52 percent from the field and 8-for-18 from beyond the arc, with Mike Brey’s team finding decent looks for most of the night whether Duke was in man or zone.
Notre Dame finished the game with four double-digit scorers and on a night in which Vasturia shot 1-for-7 from the field, 6-foot-5 forward Bonzie Colson gave the Fighting Irish some valuable minutes off the bench. Colson, who played just nine minutes in Notre Dame’s overtime win at NC State on Sunday, contributed eight points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in 14 minutes against Duke. Thanks to the likes of Colson, Zach Auguste (14 points, six rebounds) and Pat Connaughton (13 points, 12 rebounds), the Fighting Irish were able to hold their own in the front court despite being the smaller team.
While this win keeps Notre Dame on the heels of Virginia in the race for the ACC title, for Duke the defeat makes their game in Charlottesville Saturday night even more important. Now three games behind the Cavaliers in the loss column, Duke’s in a spot where they have to win if they’re to make a run at winning the ACC regular season title. And in order to beat Virginia, Duke has to do a better job of converting around the basket than they did Wednesday night.
Failing to do so left the door open for a Fighting Irish comeback, and Jerian Grant and company were all too willing to take advantage.