Notre Dame men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey was a little concerned about an upcoming two-week layoff and how his players will handle so much practice time without interruption. Now he just wants all 11 bodies with which to work.
Freshman forward Zach Auguste finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 12 minutes of action
The No. 22 Fighting Irish slapped around visiting Kennesaw State Wednesday night in an 85-57 victory, but it was Notre Dame that ended the evening bloodied and bruised. Junior guard Jerian Grant, who did not start for the first time all season, didn’t finish either. Brey was trying to send the 6-foot-5, 202-pounder a message by benching Grant for the first eight minutes of the game. In midflight of a tomahawk jam attempt, Grant got slammed to the court by Owls freshman Jordan Montgomery, who was called for a flagrant foul.
It was a scary moment inside Purcell Pavilion, but Grant eventually got up and walked to the locker room on his own. Brey said Grant suffered a bruised back, didn’t have any concussion symptoms and had a few minor scrapes and cuts from where his mouth hit the floor.
“I think it’s going to be very questionable for Friday — bruised back,” Brey said of Grant’s status for Notre Dame’s home game against Niagara. “We don’t have any fractures, thank God. That was a heck of a spill. … I just think he’s going to be too sore to do anything until we get back from Christmas. It opens ups some opportunities for some other guys.”
Though Brey wouldn’t go on record saying as much, he made it clear that he was trying to send a message to Grant, who has struggled to give consistent effort on both ends of the floor all season.
“Just starting a different way,” Brey said with a mischievous smile. “Next question.”
Grant riding the pine to start the game changed Brey’s personnel groupings for the rest of the contest. The Fighting Irish featured several first-time lineups Wednesday, highlighted by freshman forward Zach Auguste’s career-high 12 points and seven rebounds in 12 minutes of action.
Senior Jack Cooley registered his eighth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Grant finished with 14 points and sophomore guard Pat Connaughton added 12 points to lead the Irish, which improved to 11-1 with one game remaining before the start of Big East Conference play. Junior point guard Eric Atkins produced a career-high 13 assists to go with his nine points.
“We had a couple spurts where we were able to get out and get some things in transition,” Brey said. “… I loved how some guys off the bench helped us. I thought it was neat that Zach [Auguste] gave us some minutes tonight and gave us some energy.”
“I have just been working hard in practice and we all have been competing and helping each other get better,” Auguste said. When I get in I just do the most I can.”
Notre Dame only led 34-28 at halftime, but started the second half with a 6-0 run and never looked back. The Irish shot 61.5 percent (32-for-52) from the field for the game, including an 8-for-18 effort from behind the 3-point line. Notre Dame made 5 of 9 attempts behind the arc in the first half and went 3-for-9 in the final 20 minutes.
Forward Aaron Anderson paced the Owls (1-9) with 16 points. Kennesaw State, coached by former Irish assistant Lewis Preston, shot just 40 percent (20-for-50) from the field and 27.8 percent (5-for-18) from 3-point land.
“It’s good to be back in familiar territory,” said Preston, who served under Brey from 2000-06 and is in his second year at KSU. “I just didn’t like being on the opposing side, especially in the second half.”
Notre Dame shot a season-high 86.7 percent from the foul line, making 13 of 15 attempts, and outrebounded the Owls 36-17.
Sixth-year senior Scott Martin reached the 1,000-point plateau Wednesday in the first half on a made 3-pointer. He now has 728 career points with the Irish after scoring 272 in his freshman year at Purdue.