Irish make opening statement, beating Duke in ACC debut
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2691 January 4, 2014 5:28PM
Notre Dame gaurd Eric Atkins, left, dribbles past Duke guard Quinn Cook during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: February 6, 2014 6:46AM
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s ACC debut wasn’t going as the Irish had hoped.
They trailed Duke by 10 points with 11:35 remaining. And the Blue Devils weren’t missing from 3-point territory.
But Notre Dame had been through a lot in recent weeks. So a double-digit deficit to a top-10 team didn’t seem all that daunting.
The Irish responded with a thrilling rally and then held on to defeat No. 7 Duke 79-77 Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
“This group has been through some tough stuff since the Ohio State game,” coach Mike Brey said. “For us to come together and win a game like this after being down 10, I’m very proud of them.
“… It’s a historic day for us. Our first ACC game and to beat a program like Duke’s will always be a great memory for us starting off in Atlantic Coast Conference play.”
Eric Atkins led the way with 19 points. Demetrious Jackson sealed the victory with a steal and two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining to give the Irish (10-4, 1-0 ACC) just enough breathing room to pull off the upset.
ND’s rough stretch included blowing a late lead at Ohio State and then losing star guard Jerian Grant because of academic reasons.
Saturday, the team showed it could bounce back.
“It definitely gives us a lot of life,” Atkins said. “Everybody’s confidence is up now after winning such a big game.”
Rodney Hood led Duke (11-3, 0-1) with 27 points. Freshman sensation Jabari Parker had seven points, and spent most of the final stretch on the bench.
“He just wasn’t having a good game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Even without much from Parker, Duke led 60-50 with 11:35 to go. The Irish responded with a 10-0 run. Atkins made a floater to tie the game with 8:01 remaining.
Steve Vasturia made a 3-pointer and Pat Connaughton followed with a thunderous dunk to give Notre Dame a 70-64 lead with 4:18 left.
Notre Dame led 77-75 with 16 seconds left when Jackson stepped in front of a Hood pass for a steal. Jackson got fouled and made both free throws. Moments later, the Irish celebrated their first ACC victory.
“This is the team that you’ve got to beat in the ACC,” Brey said, “if you want to kind of feel and look like you belong.”