Canisius (8-4) at Notre Dame (8-4)

The Sports NetworkDecember 29, 2013 

GAME NOTES: A pair of 8-4 teams are set for a Sunday afternoon showdown, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcome the Canisius Golden Griffins to the Joyce Center for a non-conference clash.

The Griffins have gotten off to a flying start this season at 8-4, which includes wins in each of their first two games in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule. Canisius are currently winners of two straight, taking down Holy Cross on the road on Dec. 16 (83-73) before besting Lamar at home on Dec. 21 (87-74).

Notre Dame's 8-4 ledger has been a mild disappointment considering it began the season ranked in the Top 25. The Irish dropped their latest game, losing to nationally-ranked Ohio State on Dec. 21 in the Gotham Classic Showcase Game at Madison Square Garden (64-61), making them just 3-3 in their last six contests.

The Irish have beaten the Griffins in 19 of 23 all-time meetings, including in six straight dating back to 1962.

Canisius opened up a 15-point halftime lead over Lamar in its most recent contest and cruised to the victory from there, shooting 46.8 percent from the field (including 10-of-20 from beyond the arc) while winning the turnover battle by a dominating 19-11 margin. Billy Baron and Jordan Heath each scored 16 points, while Baron stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere too with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals. Chris Perez netted 14 points, Chris Manhertz tallied 10 points and nine rebounds, and Zach Lewis also poured in 10 points.

On the season, the Griffins just barely outscore their opponents, as they boast a +1.2 scoring margin, but they own an impressive +2.3 turnover margin and hold their opponents to only 28.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. Baron is the unquestioned catalyst, scoring 20.0 points per game to go with nearly twice as many assists (56) as turnovers (31). Perez (11.6 ppg) and Heath (11.5 ppg) act as solid secondary options, with Heath draining field goals at a 57-percent success rate.

Not only did Notre Dame hang with an undefeated Ohio State squad in its latest bout, it even held an eight-point lead in the final minute, but it fell apart down the stretch, inexplicably allowing the Buckeyes to get back in the game at the foul line (8-of-9 in the final 41 seconds) before Lenzelle Smith, Jr. delivered the game-winning bucket, handing the Irish a devastating blow. Although they shot a respectable 45.1 percent from the field on the night, they were just 4-of-14 from long distance and 11-of-19 from the free-throw line. Jerian Grant led all scorers with 18 points but he also committed five turnovers. Garrick Sherman netted 14 points, Pat Connaughton posted 13 points and eight rebounds, and Eric Atkins added 10 points.

Despite its shortcomings against strong competition, Notre Dame has still been largely impressive this season, shooting 47.6 percent from the field for 79.5 points per game, 10.3 points more than it allows. Grant is one of the most efficient guards in the nation, tallying 19.0 points, 6.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game, while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor. Sherman (14.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Connaughton (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are both mainstays in the paint, while Atkins rounds out the double-digit scorers with 11.8 points per game.

This is far from a layup for the Irish, as they dropped a home contest against a solid mid-major foe on Dec. 11 to North Dakota State (73-69). Canisius is more than capable of coming into the Joyce Center and pulling off the upset, but expect Notre Dame to bounce back from its most recent loss in its return home.

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