Notre Dame caps off second half comeback to top Duke for second year in a row

For the first time in a long time, the Notre Dame student section contained their joy and held off on the court rush.

The No. 8 Fighting Irish (20-2, 8-1 ACC) overcame yet another deficit and took down the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (17-3, 4-3 ACC) 77-73 at Purcell Pavilion.  In previous years, a victory by a lesser Notre Dame team in a game with this much hype would have given plenty of incentive for Irish faithful to celebrate on the floor with their classmates.

As Notre Dame’s Mike Brey likes to say, “this group” is a whole different story.

For the second game in a row, the Irish true to their legacy fought back after being in a double digit hole.  The Irish were down by as many as 18 points to North Carolina State just this past Sunday and pulled off the comeback win.  And now for the second year in a row, they can claim bragging rights over Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.

The contest featured two player-of-the-year candidates in Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant and Duke freshman forward Jahlil Okafor.  Both young men put on a show worthy of the title, only Grant’s was more decisive.

Okafor put up a double-double, collecting 23 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.  At one point in the first half, he posterized Bonzie Colson with a one-handed reverse jam.  Grant finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds, and a career- high 12 assists.

In the first half, Grant let loose an obnoxious three pointer within the midcourt Purcell Pavilion shamrock, stunning the onlookers.  Undoubtedly his most crucial shot of the game came with 1:11 left in the contest and with the Irish nursing a one point lead.  As Grant let the shot clock run down, the ball was stripped lose from his grip, but he corralled it and threw up an off- balance prayer at the shot clock buzzer that dropped to give the Irish a 73-70 advantage.

“It’s a heck of a bucket,” said Coach K, who could will have to wait to securenot grab his 1,001st on the nightvictory number 1,001.  “A fortunate bucket, but a heck of a bucket.”

One possession later, Grant took the shot clock down once more and whipped a pass to a wide open Steve Vasturia for another key three pointer, stretching the Irish lead to 76-72.  Before that, Vasturia had not made a shot all game.

“That is such a pro move what he did there backing down and then finding the shooter in the corner,” Brey said of Grant.  “Whatever Jerian wants to do, he can do.”

Duke produced a 12-2 run in the second half to increase the lead to 63-53 at the 12:41 mark.

The Blue Devils manhandled Notre Dame in the paint, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.  Both teams were efficient from the floor, but Duke only converted only 50 percent of their free throws, going 10-of-20.

Jahlil Okafor made it to the charity stripe a number of times, but only hit 2-of-7 free throws.

“Jah had a heck of a game. If he hit those free throws then we would be talking about Jah having a great game, not Jerian Grant,”  Krzyzewski said.  “A number of free throws came from our big men, so historically when your big guys are getting the majority of the free throws, your free throw percentage is going to be lower.”

Zach Auguste added 14 points and 6 rebounds for the Irish and Connaughton had himself a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.  The Blue Devil’s Quinn Cook played all 40 minutes and put up 15 points, while Tyus Jones had added 14 points.

The victory keeps Notre Dame keeps itself firmly in second place of the ACC standings.  Duke fell to 4-3 in conference play, their worst start to conference play since a 3-4 record in the 1995-1996 season.

Mike Brey moved to 14-7 against top ten teams at home while at Notre Dame.  The Irish are 6-1 against top ten teams at home since 2010.

The Blue Devils have their work cut out for them going into their next matchup against No. 2 Virginia.  The Irish go on the road to face Pitt (13-8, 3-5 ACC) on Saturday, January 31.

Jonathan Mehall is a senior studying at Holy Cross College majoring in communication with a minor in sports management.  Contact Jonathan at