Notre Dame holds off hard-charging Hoosiers
Sunday, December 15, 2013 3:04 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The difference between Notre Dame and Indiana came down to experience.
Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton did just enough to keep the Fighting Irish in control of the Crossroads Classic opener. Indiana's youngsters struggled to dissect the steadier, savvier Fighting Irish all afternoon.
Grant, a senior, finished with 23 points and nine assists and Connaughton, a junior, scored all 14 of his points in the second half, leading the Fighting Irish past longtime in-state rival Indiana 79-72.
"We do have an experienced nucleus that has played together and won together before in these atmospheres," coach Mike Brey said. "I'm not surprised. These old guys have been in a lot of battles like this."
That meant a lot Saturday.
The Irish (8-3) started fast and seized control, got two of Indiana's top rebounders into early foul trouble and fended off every challenge the Hoosiers (8-3) posed in the second half when the old standbys -- Grant and Connaughton -- combined for 24 of Notre Dame's 32 points.
They were a combined 10 of 21 from the field, 5 of 9 on 3-pointers and 16 of 17 from the free-throw line against one of the nation's best defenses.
Notre Dame shot 46.3 percent from the field as a team and even though Indiana held a 36-33 rebounding edge, the Irish played well enough inside to nullify what was expected to be a big advantage for Indiana. And when the Irish needed a late play, they urged Brey to run a play for Eric Atkins and executed the curl and pass perfectly for an easy layup to make it 73-69 with 1:21 to play.
"We hadn't run it all day," Brey said of the play. "That's their feel for the game."
The young Hoosiers, in contrast, were not themselves.
After going 1-1 in two other uncharacteristic games at Madison Square Garden three weeks ago, the Hoosiers again struggled inside an NBA arena.
Indiana's four most experienced players all had big days. Will Sheehey tied his career-high with 22 points, Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell had 13 points and five steals, Evan Gordon scored 11 points off the bench and Jeremy Hollowell matched his career-best with seven assists.
Their less experienced teammates, however, struggled. The Hoosiers shot just 41.3 percent from the field, were 7 of 20 on 3s and had nearly as many turnovers (13) as assists (15) as they fell to 1-3 against power-conference schools this season. Heck, Indiana only tied the score twice, both early in the second half, and never led.
To coach Tom Crean, the reason was obvious.
"It was just a little bit too bright in there today for our young team to really step up to the task that we had with a bunch of veterans," Crean said after losing for the second straight year in the Classic.
It was a tough day for Indiana, which fell behind right away.
After falling into a 35-22 hole with 6:20 left in the first half, the Hoosiers spent the rest of the day trying to dig out. They almost did.
Indiana closed the half on an 8-3 run to get within 47-42 at halftime, then opened the second half with Gordon's 3-pointer and Ferrell's 11-foot jumper to finally tie the score at 47.
Grant answered with two free throws for the Irish, Noah Vonleh tied it again on a dunk for Indiana and then Connaughton broke the tie with a 3 for his first basket of the game with 16:40 to play. Indiana never got even again.
"We made a bunch of runs, we could just never get all the way over the hump," Crean said. "Whether it was a missed shot, whether it was a missed play defensively."
Connaughton turned the game again by scoring eight of his points during a 12-4 spurt, which included another 3 from Connaughton to make it 59-51 with 12:38 to go.
Indiana rallied with seven straight points to make it 59-58.
But Notre Dame's defense buckled down and the Irish finally put it away with two layups and four free throws in the final 81 seconds.
"One thing about our veteran perimeter guys, they figure, over time, what a defense is going to give them because they've played so much together and they kind of picked their spots," Brey said. "They're telling me sets that they want to run in the second half. And it was their idea to run that one there when Atkins got the layup."