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December 7, 2013

Big shots, big game for Grant

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Jerian Grant has never met a big shot he didn't want to take.

With the Irish leading by one, Grant connected on a short jumper with 1:35 remaining, and then scored again 36 seconds later as Notre Dame (6-2) - coming of a tough loss at Iowa four days earlier - held off Delaware and its high-scoring attack, 80-75.

"I love the fact that he wanted to take it," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of his red-shirt senior guard who finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field.

"Then he took two in a row because he really felt it, and he should do that. He's a clutch guy. He's played a lot of games. He's made big shots."

Delaware (5-4) makes its share of shots, too. The Blue Hens - the program where Brey got his start as a head coach 19 years ago - averages 21 three-point attempts per game and is converting an impressive 39.1 percent of its attempts.

It took everything the Irish had to withstand Delaware's long-range attack as the Blue Hens converted 10-of-23 three-pointers but couldn't come up with the defensive stops with the game on the line.

"Grant hit two unbelievable shots that we had defended when we were down one," said Delaware head coach Monte' Ross. "He came down and pulled up for a shot that went in, and then when we were down three, he did the same thing right around the same spot."

Pat Connaughton nailed four free throws and Garrick Sherman made two to close out the game.

After the Irish shot to a 12-2 lead, the Blue Hens hit five straight from beyond the arc to take the lead before a late first-half Irish run gave them a 42-35 advantage. But the Irish never could quite shake Delaware because of the outstanding play of guards Jarvis Threatt (23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds), Kyle Anderson (19 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting) and Davon Usher (19 points, 3-of-6 three-point shooting).

That is until Grant took over.

"I tell our guys all the time, 'If we play good defense and somebody's offense is better than our defense, so be it,'" Ross said. "We just don't want to have mental breakdowns and give up open shots. The shots that he hit are indicative of the type of all-ACC player that I'm sure will come to fruition as the season goes on."

Notre Dame shot 49.1 percent from the field and out-rebounded Delaware, 37-27. Leading the charge on the backboards were junior co-captain Connaughton, who snagged a game-high 11 to go with 21 points in 40 minutes of action, Sherman (19 points, six rebounds) and fifth-year senior Tom Knight, who gave the Irish a spark with six rebounds in just 13 minutes.

"I think we've got Tom Knight trending back up," said Brey, who did not play Knight at Iowa. "We need his activity. He bounced around. It was there in the pre-season…first couple games, the weight of the world…I don't know.

"We actually subbed the old lineup and played zone for a couple of possessions, just to buy time. That was like putting the band back together with the two fifth-year senior big guys and the three veteran perimeter guys. That team is going to have to play to win games for us."

Trailing by five with 5:17 left in the first half, the Irish closed on a 15-3 run. The Notre Dame lead reached 12 by the 16:31 mark of the second half, but the Blue Hens' guard barrage continued, whittling the deficit down to three when Sherman had a shot blocked at the rim by Carl Baptiste and Grant missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Moments later, Grant took over.

"It's the end of the game, coach is giving me the ball, and my teammates are giving me the ball and telling me to make a play, and that's what I did," Grant said.

Said Sherman: "If there's a big shot, we want him to take it."

"He's a pretty mature guy now and I think he really believes it's his time now," said Brey of Grant. "Here's the big reason. He's practiced that way. Jerian, in his early years, was not the best of practice players. He has been a better day-to-day, consistent practice player, and I think it's carried over to the games."

Eric Atkins scored just two points for the Irish, but dished out six assists without a turnover in 37 minutes.

Notre Dame out-scored Delaware in the paint, 36-24.

The victory marked the start of regional action of the BlackRock Gotham Classic. Notre Dame takes on Bryant Monday night at Purcell Pavilion. North Dakota State, Notre Dame's opponent Wednesday night, defeated Bryant Saturday, 66-62.

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