The #17th ranked Irish have been doing a lot of things consistently this year, and winning is one of them. Notre Dame opened up conference play last week with a drubbing of Seton Hall 93-74. Scott Martin decided that the Big East opener was the perfect time to finally break out, as he put up a season high 22 points, and consistently was a threat from beyond the arc with career high(6) in 3-pointers. Irish forward Jack Cooley was his typical self as he added another double-double with 19 points and another solid effort on the board with 13 rebounds. The Notre Dame backcourt was also at it again, as Atkins and Grant put up a combined 30 points and 18 assist. While few thought the Pirates of Seton Hall would put up much of a struggle, Notre Dame made sure they didn’t.
With game one of Big East play under the belt, the Irish headed south for arguably their toughest game of the year, a date with the 21st ranked Bearcats. After starting the season 12-0, Cincinnati had lost 2 of their last 3 games, with both losses coming at home. Trying to reverse that trend the Bearcats would have to do something they have been struggling with all year, score points, and aggressively take the ball to the hoop. Cincinnati has been prone to settling for jump shots and forgetting how to share the ball, and that would not change this evening. The Irish would make that a very difficult thing to accomplish as they effectively ran 2-3 zone all night, keeping the Bearcats out of lane. Even when Cincinnati did find a way to get the ball down low, they struggled to finish. The Irish owned the lane on the defensive side of the ball, and while Cincinnati did show the ability to knock down shots from the outside occasionally, it wasn’t consistent enough. Notre Dame walked out of Fifth Third Arena with 66-60 win, and a 12 game winning streak.
Coach Brey has been quoted this year as saying this is the best backcourt he has had since being the coach of Notre Dame, and that duo did not disappoint again. Guard Eric Atkins had 10 points and 6 assist, but it was his partner that stole the show this evening. Jerian Grant tallied 19 points, and consistently found a way to get the hoop in the second half, in helping stop two Bearcat runs. He was effective both outside, inside, and hit multiple jump shots with a Cincinnati Bearcat in his face. This was arguably his best game of the season, and it comes at a perfect time with the Irish starting conference play. This win was as gritty as it gets, and even though Cincinnati kept pushing, the Irish stayed focused and found a way to win. It’s very simple to try and find fault with the 2013 Irish squad, but they just keep winning. They do it by sharing the ball, rebounding effectively, and possessing the ability to score from the outside and inside. Irish teams under Brey have almost always been effective from beyond the arc, but struggled taking it to the rim – this year is a different story though.
Notre Dame is now 2-0 in Big East Play, and 14-1 on the season. They will welcome Connecticut into Purcell Pavilion(10-3)this Saturday, and will travel to St. Johns next Tuesday. The game against Connecticut can be seen on ESPN Full-Court, and ESPN3(2pm ET).