December 29, 2014

Even Mike Brey has been surprised by the efficiency of Notre Dame's offense.

Comfortably the best-shooting team in Division I, the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish look to overwhelm another opponent at home Tuesday night when they host Hartford.

Though starters Jerian Grant, Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia were all significant contributors last season, Notre Dame (12-1) is already three wins shy of its total from 2013-14 when it struggled adjusting to life in the ACC.

Having Grant, who missed the second semester last season due to academic issues, has been a key catalyst for the Irish. He's averaging team highs of 17.6 points and 6.2 assists while amassing a 4.76-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting 52.7 percent.

Under his direction, Notre Dame is shooting 55.6 percent. Auguste is among the national leaders at 67.2 percent, including 23 of 30 in the past three games.

The Irish also lead Division I in effective field goal percentage - which puts added emphasis on made 3-pointers - at 63.4 percent. Grant has gotten help from Connaughton, whose 13.8 points per game have contributed to the Irish averaging an ACC-best 86.1 - good for fifth in the country.

"I needed to remind myself, OK, I've got those two guys, and I'm pretty sure they're coming back," Brey said of his two seniors after the Irish routed Northern Illinois 91-66 last Monday. "I thought, that's a pretty good place to start.

"We're a little bit ahead of schedule. I didn't know we'd be pounding people by 30. But I felt I had a lot to work with."

An early home-heavy schedule has also helped - the Irish have gone 10-0 at the Purcell Pavilion, averaging 87.0 points and outscoring opponents by 28.4 per game. This is the first time they've scored at least 70 in each of their first 13 games.

Connaughton has provided a steady inside-out game. The small forward hit five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds versus the Huskies for his fifth double-double of the season. He leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game and 34 3-pointers while hitting 44.7 percent from beyond the arc.

"He's great at shooting the ball, he makes great decisions and helps on the glass," Auguste, averaging 14.8 points, told the school's official website. "We call him the silent assassin ... We can always rely on him to be consistent. He always gets the job done."

Not much suggests Hartford (7-5) has the offensive firepower to keep up with Notre Dame, even after its 82-69 victory over Florida International on Dec. 21 raised its season average to 62.8 points. Yolonzo Moore II had 19 points as the Hawks scored 34 off 19 FIU turnovers.

"We have two high-major games we're staring at and we're going to try and compete like heck to win those games," said coach John Gallagher, whose team also plays Texas A&M on Saturday. "Bottom line is we have to look at it like we have been, are we getting better every day? That's what we're trying to do."

This is Gallagher's second game against a ranked opponent in his fifth season at Hartford - the Hawks were crushed 87-48 at No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 19, 2013. Hartford has lost its last six matchups with Top 25 teams - all on the road - by at least 15 points.

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