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December 6, 2013

Can Sherman find consistency?

Jack Cooley - the double-double machine - is gone, and for as much as it looks good on paper to have three 6-foot-10-and-taller guys who are expected to contribute, there is the reality of the situation.

For Notre Dame to be a consistent force in its first year in the ACC and land its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid, someone has to step forward up front.

Garrick Sherman did that Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City as the 6-foot-11, 255-pound fifth-year senior scored a career-high 29 points - seven points more than his previous high -- and grabbed nine rebounds in Notre Dame’s thrilling 98-93 loss to Iowa.

“We need for him to be a main guy for us,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “Last year, he was a little bit up and down. For him to have a night like this in this atmosphere is very important. He’s a fifth-year senior and he should feel like he’s a main guy now. It will be something he can really grow from.”

The plan was to keep a steady rotation of big men, starting with Sherman - who averaged 7.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game a year ago - and mixing in 6-foot-10, 258-pound fifth-year senior Tom Knight and 6-foot-10, 242-pound sophomore Zach Auguste.

Knight joined Sherman in the starting lineup in each of the first four games. But after 59 minutes of action and just seven rebounds from Knight, Brey turned to a smaller lineup that now includes freshman Demetrius Jackson with veterans Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton working around Sherman.

Auguste has maintained his role coming off the bench to spell Sherman, but Knight played just nine minutes Sunday against Cornell and none against Iowa. For now - and Brey hopes the rest of the season - it will be Sherman’s show.

“Just going to keep pumping him up,” said Brey of his approach to keep Sherman humming along. “He came in (to the Iowa game) with a great frame of mind, and as a fifth-year senior, he should be doing that.

“We endorsed him as, ‘We’re throwing it to you, we’re throwing it to you, we’re throwing it to you.’ He was making his free throws…just really something to build on.”

Brey tried to build around Cooley and Sherman a year ago. But while Cooley was on his way to first-team all-Big East honors in 2012-13, Sherman - the transfer from Michigan State - couldn’t find a consistent groove.

Sherman had several encouraging performances a year ago in his first season of eligibility with the Irish. He scored 22 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and grabbed nine rebounds in his second game in an Irish uniform against Monmouth. He scored 18 points three games later against George Washington, the first of three straight double-digit scoring performances. He made all five of his field-goal attempts and scored 11 points against Purdue in Indianapolis.

But by the third conference game of the season, he was down to six minutes of playing time. Against Villanova, he logged just three minutes, and then didn’t play at all against DePaul and Syracuse.

It took a five-overtime victory over Louisville - and the sheer necessity to play him - to get him back on the court. He scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting against 6-foot-11 shot-blocker Gorgui Dieng, which once again put Sherman back into the rotation. Two games later, he scored 11 points against Providence and added 14- and 16-point performances down the stretch against Louisville and Marquette on the road.

His second shaky performance in the first three games this year - scoring just four points in 16 minutes against Indiana State - raised concerns again. But in the last four games, Sherman is averaging 19 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. For the first time since returning to the hardwood with the Irish, Sherman has logged at least 23 minutes of action in four straight games.

“Senior on the road, you’ve got to stand up for your team and play well,” said Sherman following Tuesday night’s breakthrough performance against the Hawkeyes.

“I kind of started off the season inconsistent, but now it’s a whole other gear when it gets to be a big game like this. This was a big game for me. Having coach endorse me as one of the main guys, that’s always a big deal.”

When Sherman is on his game around the basket, it’s a thing of beauty. He has an array of up-and-under post moves and a soft touch on the rim. When Sherman gets ahead of himself and tries to do things at an accelerated pace, he becomes turnover prone. But when he probes the inside, kicks the basketball out, re-positions himself around the basket, sets picks and rolls to the basket, he is a dynamic inside force.

“I feel comfortable in that role as the main guy,” Sherman said. “I’m not shying away from it at all. I embrace it. I knew I had to come on the road and establish myself as the main guy.”

The question is: Can Sherman remain the main guy?

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