With last night’s 77-73 victory over the Duke Blue Devils and freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sent a clear message to the rest of the college basketball world. And hopefully they were paying attention. Because this team is here to stay.
Led by senior guard Jerian Grant, and his 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists, the eighth-seeded Irish improved their overall record to 20-2 on the year. But this win was more than just another win in conference play. It was a statement win. It’s the type of game that Notre Dame needed to win if they hoped to be considered among the elite in the country. It appears they’ve silenced any doubters who felt they couldn’t contend for a National Championship. But, while they’re poised to make a run at the rest of the field come March, do the Irish have what it takes to win the competitive ACC Conference?
All statistics are courtesy of SR/College Basketball
Defeating No. 4 Duke was good enough to improve the Fighting Irish’s record in the ACC to 8-1, and help them keep pace with the conference leading, Virginia Cavaliers. However, what it really did was showcase just how truly resilient this Notre Dame is. The Fighting Irish were down by 10 points with 11:28 left in the game, but they never folded. They stormed back, made the big shots, and took control of the game. This team does not quit. And it’s not the first time they had to make a big comeback. In fact, it’s pretty much their M.O.
In the past five games, this is Notre Dame’s fourth time winning after overcoming a double-digit deficit. In the last month alone, the Irish have five double-digit comebacks in conference play alone. That kind of ability to stay cool under pressure is a telling sign of just how much heart this Notre Dame team has. When the chips are stacked against them, they manage to find a way to regroup. This quality will come in handy in the latter stages of the season, and it can only help their chances of taking home the conference title.
Notre Dame finds itself in a very fortunate position. Not only do they have a ton of upperclassmen leadership — their starting lineup, alone, features two seniors and a junior, but they have player of the year candidate, Jerian Grant. On the season, Grant is averaging of 17.4 points, 3.2 rebound, and 6.5 assists a game, and lives for the big moments. But the Virginia Cavaliers are no joke, and they remain one of the only two unbeaten teams in the country. Winning the ACC won’t be easy. But that seems to be how Notre Dame likes it.
No matter how you look at it, the Irish play top-notch basketball. They’re ninth in the country in scoring with 81.6 points per game, and they lead the nation with a 124.5 offensive rating. Notre Dame can play with anyone in the country, and they’ll always be in the game. The reason for this is simple. The Irish are all heart. They never quit, and they will fight to the bitter end. And there aren’t many teams in the country who can say the same. They may not be in first place in the ACC right now, but, trust us, that’s not going to keep them down. It’s not who they are.