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GREENSBORO (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Hurricanes may have their hands full with one of the best players in the ACC on Thursday night.
If Jerian Grant had a vote for ACC Player of the Year, it would have gone to Jerian Grant.
Those with a say didn’t collectively agree, but the Notre Dame guard could cause some second guessing Thursday night in the ACC tournament quarterfinals against Miami if he’s able to turn in a performance similar to the first time the Fighting Irish faced the Hurricanes.
“I think I deserved it,” Grant said after the award went to Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. “Obviously it was a goal of mine individually. But at the end of the day, we had a great season. It’s something I wanted. I didn’t get it. The best way to show that I deserved it or I wanted it is to go out there and play.”
One thing that isn’t debatable is his importance in the 11th-ranked Irish’s results, which include a school-record 26 regular-season victories and a double-bye in the conference tournament a season after going 6-12 in the league. Grant averaged 17.7 points while shooting 51.8 percent in the team’s victories. In its five losses, he was limited to 12.0 points on 34.7 percent, including 12.5 percent (2 of 16) from 3-point range.
“I think the difference-maker for him is the stuff he does in crunch time with the ball in his hands,” coach Mike Brey said. “If you look back it’s a Jerian Grant key bucket or a pass for the key bucket that let us escape and get a win.”
Third-seeded Notre Dame (26-5) needed even more out of Grant in a 75-70 win over Miami on Jan. 17. Grant scored 23 points on a season-best 8-of-10 shooting and added eight assists to help the Irish to their third win in four games in the series.
Sixth-seeded Miami (21-11), considered a bubble team with an NCAA Tournament case that includes a win at Duke, can likely play itself into the tournament with another signature win. It wasn’t particularly impressive Wednesday night against lowly Virginia Tech with its first double-digit lead coming in the final minute, though the 59-49 win was its third straight while limiting itself to just 7.3 turnovers per game.
Sheldon McClellan scored a game-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting while playing all 40 minutes after going 8 for 24 in his previous two games. The Hurricanes’ leading scorer (14.8 points per game) managed 17 against Notre Dame, while fellow guard Angel Rodriguez was held to four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
Rodriguez played 10 minutes against Virginia Tech after missing three games with a sprained right wrist.
Miami’s last four games against the Top 25 dating to that defeat in South Bend have resulted in losses, though they’ve all come by single digits. The Hurricanes led Notre Dame by one at the break before allowing a 46-point second half.
Winning the rematch, however, is not Miami’s main ultimate goal.
“Our focus has been coming into the tournament to win the tournament,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “… Right now, we’ve won three in a row, all (away from home). Our team is confident. They’re playing well. Very, very attentive to detail, and hopefully we’ll play a great game tomorrow night. We’re going to need to to advance.”
The Irish concluded their regular season with Saturday’s 81-67 home victory over Clemson. Zach Auguste and Grant each had 19 points, the team matched a season low by committing just four turnovers, and Brey sees plenty of confidence in his players heading into the tournament.
“They believe it’s their time now in postseason,” Brey said. “They’ve certainly prepared themselves with how they’ve handled the regular season. They have every reason to believe.”
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