December 02, 2014

Michigan State let a prime opportunity to beat a quality opponent slip away over the weekend in part due its inability to hit easy buckets, prompting coach Tom Izzo to remark that even "a dead man can make a layup."

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has been very much alive on the offensive end of the floor and is shooting the ball with the best efficiency in the country.

The 19th-ranked Spartans likely are in for another tough test against Jerian Grant and the Fighting Irish as they travel to South Bend for a matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night.

Michigan State (5-2) led No. 11 Kansas by one point at halftime in Sunday's championship game of the Orlando Classic, but it made just 4 of 22 from the field to start the second half and finished 32.2 percent for the game in a 61-56 defeat.

Denzel Valentine went 5 of 8 - including 3 of 5 from 3-point range - and had 14 points, but Travis Trice and Branden Dawson were a combined 7 for 29, with each missing multiple layups down the stretch.

''They just had the momentum in the second half," Valentine said. "I think the shots we missed were draining."

The Spartans didn't shoot worse than 43.9 percent in their previous six, and they hadn't shot so poorly since hitting 28.6 percent in a loss to Louisville in the regional semifinals of the 2012 NCAA tournament.

Michigan State played another solid defensive game, though, holding the Jayhawks to 37.0 percent from the floor. The Spartans' last five opponents are shooting just 33.9 percent, and they'll need to lock down against a Notre Dame team that prides itself on sharing the ball.

The Irish (6-1) lead the nation in field-goal percentage at 58.0, hitting 68.8 percent from inside the arc and 43.0 percent from 3-point range.

Forward Zach Auguste is shooting 69.5 percent - among the top three nationally - while averaging 15.0 points, and Grant has hit 59.7 percent from the floor while averaging an ACC-best 18.7 points entering Tuesday's action.

Grant matched his career high with 26 in Saturday's 90-42 win over Chicago State and added five assists. His 7.0 assists per game also lead the ACC.

"If you look at our numbers and our percentages, it's all about the extra pass," coach Mike Brey told the team's official site. "Jerian does that. That's why everybody loves playing with him. He's so unselfish the way he turns down some stuff."

The Irish rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring at 86.3 points per game, but the Spartans are giving up an average of 59.7.

"Our offensive efficiency is a strength of ours that we need to keep tuned high throughout the season, and especially (against Michigan State)," Brey said.

Notre Dame has hit 50.0 percent of its 3-point attempts over its last two, and Grant hit a career-high six of his eight attempts from long range Saturday.

''We're just confident from 3 right now,'' Grant said. ''When you run, you get easy baskets and easy looks.''

These schools haven't met on the hardwood since Magic Johnson had 19 points and 13 assists in Michigan State's 80-68 victory in the 1979 NCAA tournament regional finals, as the Spartans went on to win the national title.

Izzo would like to see more frequent matchups down the road.

"Hopefully it will be something we will be able to do more than once."

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