Feeding off a packed Purcell Pavilion and choosing to be the aggressors from the opening tip, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team thoroughly thumped No. 8 Kentucky Thursday night, 64-50, making an early season statement in the process.
Jerian Grant chipped in 13 points in Notre Dame's 64-50 victory over the No. 8-ranked Wildcats.
The Fighting Irish (7-1), which led by as many as 20 points midway through the second half, were ignited by junior point guard Eric Atkins acrobatics and soft touch through the first 20 minutes. Atkins made 6 of 7 field goal attempts in the first half to push Notre Dame to a 36-25 advantage at the break. As a team, the Irish shot 55.6 percent in the opening frame and held the young Wildcats (4-2) to just 9-of-24 shooting (37.5 percent) from the field and 1-for-8 from behind the 3-point line before the two teams headed to the locker room.
A deep jumper by freshman Cameron Biedscheid inflated the cushion to 20 points at the 10:30 mark, and head coach Mike Brey’s crew put it on cruise control the rest of the way.
“I was very confident in our group,” Brey said. “It was interesting to hear people around the country though; we didn’t look at it as an upset. We just felt we had a team that has played together and could get into a rhythm against a very talented young group. We’re good here. We’re so confident here.
“… The way our guards were controlling things, you don’t have to do a lot of coaching the team. Eric Atkins was running the team and calling sets. When you have a veteran backcourt doing that, I just don’t want to get in the way too much.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari got a completely different vibe from his squad early on in the team’s first true road game of the year.
“I expected that we wouldn’t play well,” he said about Kentucky’s first timeout of the game. “… I’m disappointed that we didn’t compete. They beat us to balls, under the basket, and we just didn’t compete. We didn’t execute and we didn’t play together. There were a lot of things we didn’t do.”
Notre Dame improved to 46-0 at home in the month of November in Brey’s 13 years on the sideline, and the program is sure to break back into the top-25 rankings when they’re updated next week.
Atkins, who has had 21 assists and just one turnover over the last three games, finished with a co-game-high 16 points, senior forward Jack Cooley pounded his way to 13 points and 11 rebounds — his sixth double-double of the season — and junior guard Jerian Grant chipped in 13 points and six assists. Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid, who has looked comfortable early this year, topped off his confidence in the first big-time atmosphere of his college career, recording 10 points and a pair of big triples that kept Notre Dame’s foot on Kentucky’s neck.
“Awesome,” Brey said of Biedscheid’s performance. “I’m not surprised at all. He’s a bright lights guy. To come in and score for us … he rebounded for us, too. He got us some big rebounds (three). We ran an out-of-bounds play for him and he sticks a jump shot. I just feel good about him coming off [the bench] and scoring. He feels he belongs. What’s more important [is] the veteran guys feel, ‘Come on in here; we need him.’”
The Irish attacked 6-foot-7 freshman forward Alex Poythress, who entered the night having scored at least 20 points in each of the Wildcats’ last four games. Not only did Poythress and fellow freshman forward Nerlens Noel each battle foul trouble, the two combined for just 13 points, with Noel finishing with 10. Senior guard Julius Mays paced Kentucky with 16 points after knocking down 4 of 7 attempts from behind the arc.
Kentucky ended the night 40.4 percent from the floor (19-of-47) and the Irish ran at a 48-percent clip (24-of-50). Grant connected on 3 of 4 attempts from deep and the Irish were a collective 8-for-15 from 3-point land. Kentucky didn’t produce a 3-pointer other than Mays’ quartet. The Irish outscored Kentucky 13-6 off turnovers and 6-4 on fast breaks.
Wildcats freshman guard Archie Goodwin entered the night averaging a team-high 19 points per game, but Atkins shut him down to the tune of three points.
“I think I guarded the ball better,” Atkins said. “I didn’t let Goodwin get going; he’s a really good offensive player. I think that’s what I’m most happy about.”
The Irish don’t take the court again until Dec. 8, when Brown visits Purcell Pavilion.