Dec. 30, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Despite another blowout win, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey knows the going is about to get a lot tougher for his team.
Demetrius Jackson led four players in double figures with 18 points and the 14th-ranked Irish beat Hartford 87-60 on Tuesday night to close non-conference play.
Next up is a packed January ACC schedule that includes No. 3 Virginia and No. 2 Duke at home, as well as a trip to No. 19 North Carolina.
After outscoring opponents by an average of 25 points through the first 14 games, Brey wondered if the Irish had played enough close games yet.
“We’ve been winning by 25 and 30, but those days are over,” Brey said. “We’re going to be in a lot of dog fights.”
Tuesday was not one for long. Already leading the nation in field goal shooting, the Irish hit on 53 percent from the field, knocked down 13 3-pointers, and led by as much as 30 in the second half.
Jerian Grant shook off a leg cramp in the first half to finish with 15 points and six assists for the Irish (13-1). Pat Connaughton added 16 points and Zach Auguste scored 13 of his 15 in the second half.
“They’re as explosive an offensive team as there is in the country,” said Hartford coach John Gallagher. “They speed you up. They got us out of character.”
Mark Nwakamma led Hartford (7-6) with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Yolonzo Moore II added 12 points.
Hartford led 10-3 early and hit seven of its first nine shots. The Hawks’ advantage was two after seven minutes when Nate Sikma hit a 3-pointer, but they missed their next three shots. The Irish went on an 8-0 run in that stretch, capped by Austin Torres’ three-point play with 10:24 left in the half to put Notre Dame up four.
“They got off to a great start, but there was never one second where guys were getting frustrated with each other,” Connaughton said. “We knew that if we stick together and keep playing the way we play, it’s going to be very tough to beat us.”
Grant limped to the Irish locker room, favoring his left leg, with 1:42 left before halftime and the Irish leading by 11.
Jackson responded without his backcourt mate by driving the lane for a powerful dunk. The 6-foot-1 Jackson also added a pair of free throws, while grabbing a steal and blocking a shot on the other end in the final seconds of the half to give Notre Dame a 15-point lead.
“I didn’t even see (Grant) walk off,” Jackson said. “We just continue to play our game, regardless of who’s in there.”
Grant returned in the second half showing no signs of discomfort. He drove hard down the lane for a layup four minutes in, and his 3-pointer with 12:52 left gave the Irish a 21-point lead.
Jackson wowed the home crowd a few minutes later with a scoop through traffic, and his 3-pointer with 10 minutes to go put the Irish up 25.
“He’s come so far with his decision making with the ball,” Brey said of Jackson. “He really is a guard now, and that was my biggest concern giving him the ball this year.”
The Irish finished nonconference play with just one loss, by one point to Providence on Nov. 23.
This was the first-ever meeting between the programs. The Hawks are also still looking for their first win against an ACC opponent.
Asked to gauge his team’s strengths ahead of ACC play, Brey had a quick answer.
“Our offensive efficiency is an unbelievable weapon for us,” Brey said. “Even when we’re having defensive lapses or people are getting to us, our offensive efficiency has been excellent.”
Up next Notre Dame hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday.