January 24, 2015

The wins keep coming for Notre Dame, which is on the verge of its best start in conference play.

Its efforts on the road are a big reason why.

The No. 8 Fighting Irish try to stay unbeaten as the visiting team Sunday when they face North Carolina State.

After a disappointing first season in the ACC, Notre Dame (18-2, 6-1) is looking every bit the contender in 2014-15. The Fighting Irish are shooting 52.6 percent to rank second in the country, and their 81.9 points per game lead the conference.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," said senior Jerian Grant, averaging a team-high 16.8 points and league-best 6.4 assists. "We're taking it one game at a time, but the sky is the limit for us. The one thing about us is we're still getting better."

The Irish, who weren't affiliated with a conference until 1995, are enjoying their best start in league play since opening 6-1 in the Big East in 2002-03. They went 6-12 in the ACC last season.

Notre Dame has won its first three conference road games for the first time after cruising by Virginia Tech 85-60 on Thursday. The Irish shot 49.2 percent - including 12 of 26 from 3-point range - while holding the Hokies to 38.7 percent.

Grant filled the box score with 18 points, a season high-tying seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.

"I just don't know if there is better player than him in the country and how he kind of stirs the drink for his team," said coach Mike Brey, whose team leads the country with a 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio. "I just don't think a lot of people in the country play like us and move the ball like us. It's just a heck of a weapon."

The Irish racked up 19 assists to just six turnovers.

"It's the way we move the ball," Grant said. "We're really unselfish. We look to make the extra pass in transition. We look for the open guy. Nobody is forcing anything. As long as we play within our game, we're good."

Notre Dame was also pleased to see Zach Auguste return to form with 16 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-10 junior had scored a combined eight points in the previous two games around missing one to deal with an academic matter.

The Irish now turn their attention to North Carolina State, which won last season's only matchup 77-70 on Jan. 7. Sunday marks Notre Dame's first visit to Raleigh since 1982-83, when the Wolfpack went on to win the national championship.

The Irish have split eight matchups in the all-time series, but they're 3-0 in Raleigh.

The Wolfpack (13-7, 4-3) have alternated wins and losses over their last 12 games after falling 65-60 at Miami on Thursday. Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu scored a season-high 19 points, but he was one of just two players to reach double figures for North Carolina State.

The Wolfpack went 3 of 4 from the foul line to set a season low for attempts.

Junior Trevor Lacey, averaging a team-leading 16.7 points, has scored 19.7 per game on 54.3 percent shooting over the last three at home.

North Carolina State is 1-3 against ranked opponents, with its lone victory coming 87-75 over then-No. 2 Duke on Jan. 11. The Wolfpack are 5-27 in such games since 2010-11.

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