December 08, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference is quite familiar with placing a slew of teams in the AP Top 25 during a single week.

The newcomer among the ACC's nation-best six ranked teams this week is No. 25 Notre Dame, which has earned its place with a solid stretch of play in South Bend.

The Fighting Irish look to remain unbeaten at the Joyce Center and prepare for their conference opener Tuesday night against Mount St. Mary's.

Notre Dame (8-1) entered the rankings Monday for the first time since Nov. 11, 2013, gaining the bottom spot to join fellow ACC schools Duke (No. 2), Louisville (4), Virginia (6), Miami (20) and North Carolina (21) in the poll.

The Big 12 is a close second with five teams in this week's rankings, while the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12 have three apiece.

The Irish, who have yet to play a true road game, have gained their new status behind a 7-0 start at home and were helped the most by a 79-78 overtime victory over then-No. 19 Michigan State on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson combined for 49 points in that victory for Notre Dame, which played disciplined basketball throughout and finished with a season-low four turnovers and allowed nine free throws to overcome a 43-26 disadvantage on the boards.

Notre Dame ranks sixth nationally with 9.6 turnovers per game.

Following a hard-fought win in which neither team gained any breathing room, the Irish avoided a letdown and had an easier time beating Fairleigh Dickinson 75-57 on Saturday.

Grant, who leads Notre Dame with 19.0 points per game, had 15 and seven rebounds, while Pat Connaughton led all scorers with 19 and also had seven boards. Zach Auguste contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds and Steve Vasturia scored 10.

The Irish have had at least four players in double figures in every game this season.

"We knew we had to stay focused the whole game," said Grant, who was named ACC co-player of the week along with Virginia's Justin Anderson. "They were in a matchup zone, which is something we hadn't seen all season. We kind of had to figure that out."

The Irish, allowing an average of 55.7 points at home, tightened things up and forced the Knights to shoot 37.7 percent while dominating 41-30 on the glass.

"We defended well enough to not get bit tonight," coach Mike Brey said.

This contest against the Mountaineers (2-4) won't serve as a final tuneup for the rigors of the ACC. Although the Irish face Florida State on Saturday, their ACC slate doesn't begin in earnest until they host Georgia Tech on Jan. 3. They have nonconference games against Purdue, Northern Illinois and Hartford before then.

Mount St. Mary's doesn't appear to pose much of a threat to Notre Dame, which won the only previous meeting 78-64 at home Nov. 29, 2003, and improved to 21-0 against teams currently in the Northeast Conference with its win over Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Mountaineers have been on the opposite end of the home/away spectrum from the Irish, playing five of their first six on the road. Coming off a 74-65 win over Loyola of Maryland, they have a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Getting there will require Mount St. Mary's ending its 15-game skid against ranked teams, a streak dating to December 1996. The Mountaineers beat Georgia Tech in 1995 for their only win in 23 games against ACC schools.

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