Dec 30, 2013, 2:31 PM EST
Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
Sunday’s game against Canisius was big for two reasons. First, it was Notre Dame’s last non-conference game of the season before they kicked off their inaugural ACC campaign against Duke. Second, and more importantly, it was the Notre Dame’s first game without Jerian Grant after it was announced six days prior that he would not be enrolled at the University of Notre Dame for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year.
There was a lot of speculation on whether Brey would be able to bounce back from losing his top scorer. However, in his press conference on Monday, Brey ensured all the media that his team is used to having to redefine their play when they lose a player, with having to do it last year with Scott Martin’s injury.
Brey also said in that press conference that he would have to experiment with different rotations of guys and he was open to anyone and everyone on the roster getting playing time and helping the team in any way they could.
Experiment is what Mike Brey did with 10 different lineups of nine players in the first half. The two players that remained constant throughout all these different switches were captains, Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton. Along with these two explosive players, many young guys saw more game time tonight than they had all season.
Zach Auguste was among the young players to get long minutes in the game. “It was great chance for us,” Auguste said. “We have been playing together in practice and tonight was our opportunity to step up.”
The three players that were in the most rotations, besides Atkins and Connaughton, were Demetrius Jackson, Auguste and V.J. Beachem.
The lineup I saw that was most exciting to watch was when Atkins, Connaughton, Auguste, Beachem and Vasturia were out there. It seemed as though these guys jelled best together. The passing seemed crisper when these five were on the floor as well as the energy was on a whole other level. It is also nice to see a lineup that is not just made up of guards who shoot the three ball. These five are threats to score from anywhere on the court (under the basket, three’s, pull-up jumpers,); you name it, they did it.
With the help of these young guys as well as the veterans on the squad, the Irish improved their record to 9-4 with their first overtime victory of the season, beating Canisius 87-81.
This win was big for the team’s confidence after not only a heart-breaking loss to Ohio State but also with the loss of Grant. Eric Atkins attested to this fact, “I think this group has gone through a lot this past week. To finally get on the court and get a win was great for us mentally.”
1) Atkins Stepping Up- Eric Atkins had a career high today of 30 points. With the loss of top scorer in Grant, someone on the squad was going to have to step up and pick up the slack. As a team captain, Atkins took it upon himself to be that guy. It was nice to see a guy who has been averaging just 12 points a game come out and just tee off.
2) Newfound Intensity- The Irish looked like they were playing inspired ball on Sunday. After such a tough week both on the court and off, the Irish finally just put it all on the line with everyone stepping up making big shots. Among the players making big shots were freshmen Steve Vasturia and Beachem who hit back to back three’s in the second half to then tie up the game. This “newfound” intensity culminated near the end of the game with Atkins putting in his final three of the night and then showing a lot of emotion coming down the court.
3) Getting Matched Up- The only problem I really saw on the defensive end of the ball was Notre Dame seemed to have a tough time getting matched up when Canisius came down the court. This resulted in Canisius having a lot of open looks at the three ball. This was probably due to the fact that the Irish had a lot of young guys on the court and they did not knew who to cover. Hopefully, Coach Brey and the players will get all of this worked out with the week of practice before their next game.
The Irish now have six days until, arguably, their biggest game of the season: the program’s first ever ACC game against Duke. The game is on January 4th at Purcell Pavilion. Tip off is scheduled for 4 PM and the game can be seen on CBS.
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