SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Garrick Sherman found a brace, and some room, which allowed him to regain his shooting touch just in time to keep Notre Dame from falling below .500.
Sherman scored in double figures for the first time since sustaining a chip in his right pinky finger against Clemson on Feb. 11 and broke the 20-point barrier for the first time since Jan. 7, finishing with 21 points Wednesday night to lead the Fighting Irish to a 65-62 victory over Georgia Tech.
“It was good to break out of my little mini slump. I had three games where I was trying to figure out the whole finger issue and getting double teamed each game. It was nice to have a breakout tonight,” he said.
Sherman said a new brace helped give him confidence. He also liked that he wasn’t double-teamed, as other teams had been doing against him recently. Sherman repeatedly spun around Georgia Tech defenders inside, finishing 10 of 15 from the field as the Irish dominated inside, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 42-16 in the paint.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said he was pleased to see Sherman return to form.
“He’s really a key for us and I thought we did a good job getting him touches. And I thought he did a really good job of when to spin and make a play and when to kick it out,” Brey said.
Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory gave credit to Sherman.
“Daniel Miller is as good a post defender as there is in the country at times, and we didn’t give him a lot of help. Notre Dame did a good job of isolating him in the post. Any time you give a post man three or four dribbles, it’s going to be hard to guard him, especially someone as good as him,” Gregory said.
Point guard Eric Atkins came up big for the Irish as well, committing no turnovers in 39 minutes of play and finishing with 17 points, including a key 3-pointer. Georgia Tech cut a nine-point Notre Dame lead to 56-55 when Kammeon Holsey scored on a rebound after the Yellow Jackets forced a shot-clock violation. But the Irish answered with a 7-1 run as Sherman and Pat Connaughton scored inside and Atkins hit a 3-pointer to make it 63-56.
Robert Carter Jr., who led Georgia Tech with 19 points, hit consecutive 3s to cut the lead to 63-62. After Connaughton hit a pair of free throws, Carter missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds as the Irish held on.
“Those are the plays I’ve got to make to help this team win,” he said.
The Irish (15-14, 6-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) averted falling below .500 for the first time this late in a season since finishing 14-16 during the 1998-99 season in John MacLeod’s last year as coach. The Yellow Jackets (13-15, 4-11) lost their third straight.
Gregory said the key was at the end of the first half, when the Irish used a 22-9 run to take a 33-31 halftime lead.
“We didn’t execute as well on offense and our defense wasn’t able to hold the fort,” he said. “During crunch time, you’ve got to be able to get a couple stops, and we just weren’t able to do that. You’ve got to make some more winning plays. We made a couple, but not enough.”
The Irish held Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, Trae Golden, scoreless. He was back in the starting lineup for a second straight game after three weeks of being slowed by a groin injury, but was 0 of 10 from the field, including 0 of 5 from 3-point range.
The rest of his teammates were 10 of 15 from behind the arc, which helped Georgia Tech stay in the game. Marcus Georges-Hunt added 13 points for the Yellow Jackets, who shot 38 percent for the game.
Brey improved his record at Notre Dame to 300-156, becoming just the third Fighting Irish coach to reach that mark. The others were Digger Phelps (393-197) and George Keogan (327-97). Brey is one win away from his 400th win as a head coach at 399-208.
Brey said when he arrived in South Bend in 2000 his goal was to retire at Notre Dame, saying that goal hasn’t changed.
“To have your name on a program, it takes a lot to get it to that; that it’s your program. I’m really proud of that,” he said.