Irish cruise in tuneup for Kentucky

(MCT) — SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jerian Grant issued a quick fake, took one dribble and drained a rather nondescript jumper in the context of a Notre Dame offensive detonation. As he backpedaled, backcourt mate Eric Atkins smiled, duly noting that his assist on the play had made him double-doubly productive as well.

There was plenty to go around Monday, and go around it did, with the Irish’s 92-65 victory over Chicago State an efficient, unselfish throttling led by two guards whose recovery from early-season sputtering couldn’t have had better timing.

“We don’t put the pressure of the whole team on ourselves anymore,” Grant said after tying a career high with 22 points and adding 10 assists. “We have guys that can play. It’s not all on us to do everything. We can just relax and go out and play our games.”

Atkins added 13 points and 11 assists. Jack Cooley had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Notre Dame (6-1) shot 61 percent from the floor and drained a season-high 12 3-pointers and, well, let’s just start talking about No. 8 Kentucky storming the premises on Thursday already, right?

The Irish did, anyway.

“In practice for the last couple of days, we were talking about letting this game get us started for Thursday,” Atkins said. “As soon as I heard we had them on the schedule, you have to be excited for that game.”

Said Cooley: “I usually try not to look ahead. But that one kind of just kept glaring at me. It’s going to be packed 45 minutes before the game. So it’s going to be huge.”

Grant scored 16 in the first half when the Irish drained 10 3-pointers and built the lead to 21. Chicago State (1-6) rallied to cut it to 13 early in the second half, but five straight points by Atkins sparked a monster 18-0 run to eliminate all drama.

Now here come the defending national champions.

“Our offensive identity and flow has gotten better in the last seven or eight days,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “And not a moment too soon.”