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January 6, 2014

Small ball, big points

NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Austin Burgett checked in for Garrick Sherman with 10:41 left in Notre Dame’s ACC debut and the Irish trailing by six. Over the next 9:12, Burgett anchored a lineup with an average height less than 6-foot-5. When he checked out Notre Dame led No. 7 Duke, 72-71, en route to a 79-77 victory.

Irish head coach Mike Brey avoided that small-ball lineup in the first half, and the Blue Devils made Notre Dame pay from beyond the arc, shooting 8-of-16 from distance.

“You’re in zone, they banged down a couple 3s,” said Brey after the victory. “Now you go man, but you’ve got a tough match-up with (Jabari) Parker and (Rodney) Hood with your two big guys.

“It was tricky for (Irish sophomore forward) Zach (Auguste) and (senior forward Garrick Sherman). We kind of faked our way through it in the first half, but in the second half it really took its toll on us.”

With the Irish trailing by two to start the second half, Duke extended its lead to 10 before Brey sent in Burgett to join guards Eric Atkins, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton. Before Duke managed to adjust to Notre Dame’s all-switch defense and all-out offense, the four guards and one swingman reeled off a 16-4 run, part of a larger 20-4 run counting Sherman’s last few minutes.

“I think it clicked right away because it was tough for them to guard us,” senior captain Atkins said. “With the smaller lineup, they had their 5-man on (Burgett), who’s a 3-man, which is a tough match-up. They didn’t know if they wanted to switch or not. Everything just clicked really well because of the mismatch problems we caused them.”

With five guys who could cover the court, Notre Dame switched on everything defensively, playing man-to-man to limit the three-point threat and holding Duke to 4-of-12 in the second half. Burgett’s three second-half blocks certainly helped the cause.

“All of us could guard their other players,” Burgett said. “I think it was good having us in there being able to switch because before that we were getting confused.

“When I went in, I just thought, these guys are about to get nothing easy. I don’t care if he’s fouled or not, he’s not getting the ball up.”

Though on the bench for the pivotal stretch, senior captain Sherman enjoyed the spectacle. Notre Dame has played four guards around Sherman much of the season. Not often has he seen how it looks from the outside, and when he returned to the court with Notre Dame clinging to a one-point lead, he went straight to his favorite block and added to his 14 points and eight rebounds.

“I was excited for us,” Sherman said. “We were playing well. (Burgett) was playing really well, so I had no problems being out. Obviously, I’m a competitor, I wanted to be on the court, but I was just trying to keep myself ready for when I did get in.”


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