March 07, 2015
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Jerian Grant made one last statement in his bid for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.
Grant had a high-flying dunk, repeatedly drove past Clemson defenders and made several eye-catching passes as he finished with 19 points and eight assists to lead No. 12 Notre Dame to an easy 81-67 victory over Clemson on Saturday.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey believes Grant deserves recognition as the league’s best player, but said he is not concerned about the voting.
”Most of the coaches I’ve listened to and talked to, I think they’re Jerian Grant guys. I’m not sure about Tobacco Road media, but we’re going to find out,” he said.
Grant, who missed the second half of last season after being suspended from school for an undisclosed academic violation, described his senior year as a dream season.
”This is the best I could have imagined it and it has turned out the right way,” he said.
Zach Auguste scored 19 points, Demetrius Jackson added 14 points and Steve Vasturia had 12 as each hit two 3-pointers as the Irish made 7 of 21 3-point attempts. Clemson was just 4 of 18 from 3-point range.
Brey was pleased with how well the Irish played offensively, finishing with 20 assists on 30 baskets.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell was disappointed in his team’s defense.
”I just didn’t feel our team was as locked in defensively as we normally are,” he said. ”They pass the ball so well, they make you pay for every mistake you make.”
Jaron Blossomgame kept Clemson in the game for a while, scoring the first seven points and 13 of the Tigers’ first 17. But Blossomgame added just nine more points the rest of the way after Vasturia started defending him, finishing with 22 points.
”He was crushing us,” Brey said. ”In hindsight, we should have started Steve on him. We debated that. But Steve to the rescue again.”
Vasturia said he tried to be physical with Blossomgame.
”I just tried to frustrate him a little bit,” he said. ”The team did a good job of help defense and rotating.”
Blossomgame said the Irish were more focused on him defensively.
”They were boxing me out, looking for me on every shot that goes up and kind of denying some of my reversal passes and stuff like that,” he said.
Notre Dame (26-5, 14-4) finished with the most regular-season victories in school history. Clemson (16-14, 8-10) lost for the sixth time in its last eight games.
Landry Nnoko scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half for Clemson to match his career high. Clemson outscored the Irish 36-32 inside and outrebounded the Irish 41-28, but couldn’t keep it close.
”We just could not stop them on offense,” Nnoko said.
Clemson: The Tigers lost their fourth straight road game. … Blossomgame added 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double this season, but the first since a 60-58 loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 10. … It was just the second time in the past 19 games Nnoko scored in double figures.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame won eight more league games than last season, the second-best improvement in ACC history. The biggest improvement occurred in 2011 when North Carolina went 14-2 a year after a 5-11 finish. … Overall, the Irish won 11 more games than last season, the second-best improvement in school history. The 1972-73 squad finished 18-12 after going 6-20 in Digger Phelps’ first season as coach. … The only other Irish squad to win at least 26 games before the NCAA Tournament was the 2010-11 team, which finished 27-7.
Brey said he believes this year’s squad is one of the best teams he’s had in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame, but isn’t ready to say which is the best.
”This is right there with any of them,” he said. ”But I hate when they say, `Oh this is your best team.’ We’ve had some other pretty good teams if you think back.”
Notre Dame heads into the ACC tournament full of confidence.
”They believe it’s their time now in postseason,” Brey said. ”They’ve certainly prepared themselves with how they’ve handled the regular season. They have every reason to believe.”
Notre Dame plays next in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday.