Against an outmatched Chicago State team, Notre Dame fired at will from deep in the first half to build a comfortable cushion and roll unimpeded to a 92-65 home victory Monday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Junior guard Jerian Grant exploded for a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds in a 92-65 win over Chicago State
It was the third win in six days for the 6-1 Fighting Irish, which host No. 8 Kentucky Thursday at 7 p.m. — a contest circled on the calendars of most ND fans for months. Head coach Mike Brey hopes the offensive chemistry that has developed over the last week will carry over into the much-anticipated matchup with the Wildcats.
“Well, we made some shots,” said Brey, whose squad connected on 12 of 22 3-point attempts (54.5 percent) and 36 of 59 attempts from the field (61 percent). “I hope that carries over to Thursday, because we haven’t shot it as well as I think we can shoot it. I thought our offensive rhythm was good tonight; that’s something we’re going to need not only Thursday, but down the road.
“Loved how we shared the ball and moved it around, especially Jerian [Grant] and Eric [Atkins]. Our offensive identity and our flow has gotten better here in the last seven or eight days, and not a moment too soon with what’s coming Thursday.”
The Irish made 10 of 16 shots from 3-point land in the first half to establish a 51-32 advantage at the break. Grant scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the opening 20 minutes, and he added 10 assists for his first double-double of the year. A strong two-handed jam along the baseline and a tomahawk dunk in transition highlighted an offensive outpouring Brey’s been waiting to see from the junior guard.
“I think he’s just taken the pressure off him,” Brey said. “Remind him that he has other really good players to play with. He doesn’t have to force anything. I thought he was really ready to go early. He hasn’t had great first halves, and we need him to put two halves together. Hopefully we can build on that.”
Clark Rosenberg scored 16 points for Cougars, which dropped to 1-6 after struggling to defend an Irish outfit that took advantage in the paint in the second half when the long ball window closed. Atkins (13 points and 11 assists) and Grant found cutters to keep shoveling dirt on Chicago State throughout the second half.
“I think that backcourt is amazing,” Cougars coach Tracy Dildy said. “I was telling our guys, ‘This is probably going to be the best backcourt we play all year.’ We were really worried about [Jack] Cooley. We limited his touches in the first half. … But when you’ve got shooters, penetrators and posts, it’s hard to come up with a defense that can stop everybody.”
Cooley, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, didn’t have to shoot much in the first half with his teammates burying nearly everything they put up.
“I had an open look [from 3],” the senior forward joked. “I had people yelling at me [to shoot it], but I just wasn’t feeling it today.”
Sixth-year senior guard Scott Martin and sophomore guard Pat Connaughton both reached double figures, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively. Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid contributed once again off the bench, scoring nine points in 22 minutes. Senior center Garrick Sherman played 20 minutes and scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds.
The Irish made 8 of 11 attempts from the foul line and outrebounded Chicago State 36-30.
“I think we needed to shoot it better,” Brey said. “We can really build on that because we’re going to have to make some shots with the shot blockers [Kentucky has]. You’re not going to get much stuff in the lane and in the paint. We’re going to have to make shots and we’re going to have to get out in transition and get some easy ones. We did that tonight, so I think it does come at a good time.”