The Notre Dame basketball team came out with a pair of new looks Saturday against South Florida as its ‘reinvention’ project began. Irish head coach Mike Brey said earlier in the week that his team would need to reinvent itself with veteran Scott Martin out indefinitely with a knee injury and they were definitely different in their 73-65 win over the Bulls in Tampa.
Tom Knight, who was making his fourth career start, scored a career-high 17 points in his first start of the season. His previous career-high was nine points against Sacred Heart on Dec. 19, 2011. The senior was 8-for-10 from the floor while also yanking down seven rebounds. It was Knight’s first start in a Big East Conference game.
The Fighting Irish (16-4, 4-3 Big East) also went back to black uniforms for the second time this season. The black jerseys they wore against USF (10-9, 1-6) were slightly different than the ones they donned in their 64-50 win over Kentucky back on Nov. 29. The original black duds had black numbers and lettering with green trim, but Saturday’s numbers and lettering were all-green – making them much easier to see.
The Irish got off to a hot start from long range, hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers. They cooled off quickly though by missing their last five treys of the first half and trailed 35-28 after the game’s first 20 minutes of play. The three got the Irish going again though in the second half as they made four of their first five to start the last 20 minutes to regain the lead.
Jerian Grant led the Irish with 18 points on 3-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. Pat Connaughton hit a pair of threes, while Eric Atkins added 13 points on 3-of-5 three-point shooting to help Notre Dame hit on 47% (9-of-19) three-pointers. Meanwhile, USF was able to connect on just 28% (6-for-21) threes.
Knight’s presence in the game, coupled with either Jack Cooley or Garrick Sherman, meant Brey used more of a “two-in, three-out” offensive scheme rather than the predominant “one-in, four-out” look they have used more often with Martin in the lineup.
Cooley struggled for most of the day. He scored a season-low six points on 2-for-4 shooting, but he did still finish with 14 rebounds.
Atkins played a good chunk of the game in foul trouble. He sat for 1:33 after picking-up his fourth foul with 7:43 remaining, but managed to go the rest of the way without another foul. Grant helped pick-up the slack by dishing-out eight assists.
The Fighting Irish, who had lost three of their last four games prior to Saturday, are back home to host Villanova Wednesday night at 6 p.m. ET at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.