The No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed a late 22-8 run on Wednesday night to escape No. 4 Duke, 77-73. The battle between the two ACC teams was the only matchup of top 10 teams on the evening — for that matter, the only game pairing two top 25 opponents on the night.
With a 39-36 lead at the half, the Blue Devils (17-3, 4-3 ACC) stretched their lead to double-digits in the second half. Freshman guard Tyus Jones hit a corner 3-pointer to push the Duke lead to 63-53 with 12:38 remaining.
Well, the Fighting Irish (20-2, 8-1 ACC) would not go away thanks to the superb effort of senior guard Jerian Grant. One of the leading candidates for NCAA Player of the Year along with Duke’s fabulous freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Grant put his stamp all over this contest. If he had not reached superstar status before Wednesday night, he changed that with his 23 point, 12 assist, 6 rebound, 3 steal and 2 block performance versus the Blue Devils.
As for Okafor, his grandiose performance ended with 22 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal and a block. Another remarkable game from the freshman was not enough to stave off the pesky Irish.
Head coach Mike Brey, in his 15th season at the helm for Notre Dame, kept iconic Coach K from taking home win number 1,001.
In order to sneak past Duke in the final minutes Wednesday night, Grant charged his squad past the finish line. After almost losing the basketball at the top of the key, Grant drove into the middle of the lane and launched a prayer that beat the shot clock with just over 1:00 to play. Then, with the clock winding under 0:30, Grant again looked to take the shot that would perhaps secure the victory for the Irish. Instead, after drawing a second defender to the right side of the key, just inside the arc, Notre Dame’s superstar decided to dish the rock to teammate Steve Vasturia. The unselfish choice was the right one, as Vasturia knocked down an open corner 3-pointer to seal Duke’s fate.
The road does not get any easier for the Blue Devils as they travel to Charlottesville to face undefeated No. 2 Virginia on Saturday night (7 pm ET on ESPN). There is no doubt that the ACC is stacked at the top — Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame all remain in the top 10, and North Carolina is ranked No. 13 in the latest AP Poll.
On February 7th, the Fighting Irish and Blue Devils will collide once again. This time, it will be on Duke’s home floor at a frenzied Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. College hoops fans, a rematch of top 10 powers is just around the bend.
*Section Photo credit to Joe Robbins, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports