Jerian Grant is averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 assists per contest and owns a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

IRISH EXTRA: Unselfishness Early Hallmark for Irish Men

Nov. 30, 2014

Following a lane violation by Chicago State during Saturday’s game at Purcell Pavilion, University of Notre Dame men’s basketball player V.J. Beachem inbounded the ball to Irish teammate Steve Vasturia.

Vasturia brought the ball up court and dished it off to Austin Torres, who quickly passed it back to Vasturia. From Vasturia, the ball went to Pat Connaughton on the wing, while Vasturia ran to the corner. Connaughton passed to Beachem, who had a good look at the basket.

Beachem, though, spied an open lane along the baseline for Vasturia and made a bullet pass to the Irish sharpshooter.

Vasturia drove baseline unguarded and pulled up for a picture-perfect jumper that swished through the net for an Irish basket.

Making the extra pass, sacrificing a good shot to find a teammate with a great shot, putting unselfish play far above any numbers on the stat sheets–those all are reasons coach Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish lead the nation in field-goal percentage.

Notre Dame, which is hitting an NCAA Division I best 58.0 percent of its field-goal attempts, will rely on its pass-oriented attack Wednesday night when the Irish host No. 19 Michigan State. Tip-off for the Atlantic Coast Conference/Big Ten Challenge blockbuster is set for 7:15 p.m. EST at Purcell Pavilion.

“I had a good shot, but one more pass made it a great shot,” Beachem said of the sequence Saturday that symbolized Notre Dame’s highly efficient offense. “Steve (Vasturia) was wide open. We always want to try and get the best shot possible. Coach Brey always preaches that to us, to stay unselfish.”

Notre Dame’s unselfishness has helped the Irish post impressive numbers. Notre Dame is 13th in the nation in scoring (86.3 points a game), 17th in assists per game (17.9), 17th in three-point field-goal percentage (43.0), and 13th in the nation in three-point baskets made (9.7 a game).

“I think it’s pretty typical of our team for V.J. to make a play like that,” Vasturia said. “We’re always looking for the best shot we can get. It’s pretty common for us to pass up a good shot if someone else has a better opportunity. That’s just the way we play offense. It’s something we’ve been working on throughout the off-season.”

Brey said the national-best shooting percentage is a direct result of the Irish making the extra pass.

“If you look at our numbers and our percentages, shooting 50 percent for seven games, it’s all about the extra pass,” Brey said. “Our passing is why the shooting percentages are there. We have shot-makers, but we have really been able to keep moving it to find a great shot on most of the possessions.

“We love moving the ball. I think we turn down some pretty good shots to make yet another pass. Jerian does that. That’s why everybody loves playing with him. He’s your best player, but he’s so unselfish the way he turns down some stuff. Our offensive efficiency is a strength of ours that we need to keep tuned high throughout the season, and especially on Wednesday night (against Michigan State).”

On Saturday against Chicago State, the Irish rolled to a 44-22 halftime lead. Notre Dame boasted 13 assists on 15 first-half baskets.

“I love how we pass it,” Brey exclaimed. “We can really pass the ball. I hope our fans understand what they’re seeing, because it’s a team that really knows how to play on that end of the floor.”

According to Brey, passing is a craft the Irish practice during the season and during the off-season.

“I think it’s part of our culture here,” Brey said. “We’ve had what I think Jay Bilas says is a `culture of passing.’ We’ve really moved it and always made the extra pass. We’ve always had a number of guys who can shoot the basketball, but yet passing is part of the culture, it’s part of the older guys letting the younger guys know, especially in the summer when they play pickup basketball, that we make the extra pass here. If you are open, we will find you. Be secure and let the game come to you and don’t force anything.

“I thought Zach Auguste was a good example of that against Chicago State. He made some great passes out of the post today, had only two points at halftime and then he starts running and rolling. He starts the second half and our guys find him. We talked about how our focus has been defense, to get better there, and we’ve made improvement. But my biggest thing was could we score that thing and be efficient offensively again. We have the ability to do that.”

Irish captain Pat Connaughton said there has been complete and enthusiastic buy-in by the Irish with regard to being unselfishness, and it will be a key factor for the Irish in their ACC/Big Ten showdown.

“The biggest thing about this team, we don’t worry about this sheet of paper (the stat sheet),” Connaughton said. “It’s about the victory, the W at the end of the game. Whatever we have to do to get that on the board is what we’re going to do, and what we strive to do, and what we work so hard every day in practice to do.

“Obviously we have guys who love playing with each other. We enjoy playing with each other, we enjoy making the right basketball play. When you have that, and you have guys who like making the extra pass, it really helps. If you look at the ball movement, the way we learn how to play, and the way Coach Brey teaches us how to play, it’s inevitable that we’re going to make the extra pass and find the best shot.”

On Saturday, the impact the extra pass can have was evident as the Chicago State defense wore down. The Irish hit 58.5 percent from the floor against Chicago State, including 56 percent of their three-point shots. Chasing extra passes left the Cougars tired, and the Irish cashed in on uncontested shots.

“It’s tough,” Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy said of trying to guard a team that is committed to making an extra pass. “You hope a team can guard against the first two passes. When you have a team that is as unselfish as this team (Notre Dame), where they are always looking for that next pass and the open man … look at the stats. They had 22 assists. This is the type of team that can average around the ballpark of that for the season. That says a whole lot right there.”

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent