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Premature end to last season motivates Notre Dame’s best scoring option

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Through the first 12 games of the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant played like one of the top guards in the ACC. Averaging 19.0 points, 6.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game, Grant was expected to team with roommate Eric Atkins and other experienced options to ensure that the Fighting Irish’s transition into a new conference went smoothly.

However Grant’s final game of the season would turn out to be a harbinger of things to come for Notre Dame, with their stunning loss to Ohio State on December 21 being a product of the Fighting Irish’s inability to close the game out. An academic issue meant that Grant would have to not only leave the program for the remainder of the season but the school as well, and without their best player Notre Dame struggled to make the plays needed to beat the better teams in the ACC.

Notre Dame finished the season with a 15-17 overall record, going 6-12 in conference play and falling to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament. Grant’s back on campus for his final season, and the way in which 2013-14 ended for him remains on Grant’s mind.

“Coach (Mike Brey) and the team tell me all the time, ‘Jerian, it wasn’t your fault, what happened,’” Grant said Thursday, standing in a Purcell Pavilion hallway and speaking for the first time since the suspension.

“But at the end of the day, me being me, I feel like a lot of that was on my back. The games came down to the end and I feel like for maybe the last two years here, I’ve been the closer. It definitely fuels me.”

Grant’s return is very important for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish have to account for the loss of double-digit scorers Atkins and Garrick Sherman from last season’s team. With Pat Connaughton back the Fighting Irish will have another experienced option, but they need a primary scoring option to lead the way.

That’s where Grant comes into play, and throughout his time at Notre Dame he’s emerged as that kind of player. With last season’s disappointing finish serving as motivation, Grant will have all the fuel he needs to make the most of his final year in South Bend. The key for Notre Dame: who, besides Connaughton, steps forward on a consistent basis.

Follow @raphiellej