Jan 4, 2014, 6:23 PM EDT
For the first time in 19 games against former assistant coaches, Mike Krzyzewski has been beaten.
And while it isn’t necessarily a surprise that it was Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey that did it, it is a surprise that it happened this season.
The Fighting Irish were dealt a bad hand last month when it was announced that leading scorer Jerian Grant would be leaving school for the second semester due to an academic issue. That left a Notre Dame team that had been struggling with Grant in the lineup shorthanded, and the fact that they were taken to overtime by Canisius in their first game in the post-Jerian era was not exactly promising.
But if there is anything that Brey has proven that he’s capable of doing, it’s overcoming adversity on his roster. And on Saturday, his Irish used a late 20-4 run to turn a 60-50 deficit into a 70-64 lead in their 79-77 win over the Blue Devils.
Eric Atkins led the way for the Irish, finishing with 19 points and 11 assists while completely dominating the game on the offensive end of the floor. There really isn’t any other way to put it. He’s averaging 24.5 points and 9.0 assists in the two games without Grant.
He’s not alone, however. Pat Connaughton finished with 16 points — including a pair of momentum-changing dunks late in the second half — while Garrick Sherman chipped in with 14 points and eight boards, helping the Irish to control the paint against the smaller Blue Devils. Austin Burgett (five boards, five blocks) provided energy off the bench while Steve Vasturia (3-for-5 from three) came in and helped stretch the floor.
Put it all together, and what you get is Notre Dame’s biggest win of the season.
Remember, this is a team that lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home, that choked away an eight point lead in 51 seconds against Ohio State at the Garden. This is a team that had been written off as a contender in the ACC before the lost Grant for the year. But the Irish made a statement on Saturday afternoon. They’re not going to roll over and die just because a couple of pundits said they would.
This isn’t the first time that Brey has had to manufacture a turnaround. Remember when Luke Harangody injured his knee in 2010 and the Irish were forced to turn to the ‘Burn Offense’? That turned their season around, and they won their last six regular season games before making the NCAA tournament. Or what about in 2012, when Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL and the Irish still managed to win 13 Big East games?
Are the Irish really back?
Is this group actually going to be able to win against the best in the ACC once teams have a chance to scout and game-plan what they do without Grant?
But the bottom-line is that writing off the Irish — writing off Mike Brey — is never a good idea.
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