SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Mike Brey knew his team was better shooting at free throws than they had shown of late.
So with six days off between games, Brey had No. 10 Notre Dame focus on foul shots. All that work at the line paid off Tuesday night.
Jerian Grant had 24 points, 10 assists and five steals, and the Irish hit 27 of 28 from the free throw line in an 88-75 win over Wake Forest.
After a 35 percent foul shooting performance in a blowout loss at Duke 10 days ago, free throws were Brey’s focus.
”We should be shooting that thing at a better clip from the line,” said Brey. ”It’s a great weapon for us.”
Pat Connaughton added 13 points for the Irish (23-4, 11-3 ACC) despite battling a stomach virus and missing practice for much of the past week.
Devin Thomas, who averaged 20 points and eight rebounds in two Wake Forest wins over the Irish last year, had 26 points and 11 boards for the Demon Deacons (12-15, 4-10 ACC).
Notre Dame, second in the nation in field goal shooting coming in, hit just one of its first 12 attempts after not playing for a week. The Irish took a 43-41 lead into halftime after Grant’s drive and layup with three seconds left.
”That dude makes tough shots,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning. ”He’s a complete, all-around player.”
That bucket turned out to be the beginning of a 10-0 Irish run. Grant and Steve Vasturia hit consecutive 3-pointers to help the Irish open up a double-digit lead for the first time, less than two minutes into the second half. Vasturia finished with 12 points.
After Thomas scored on consecutive trips down the floor for Wake Forest, the floodgates opened for the Irish. Connaughton’s 3-pointer with 13:04 left was Notre Dame’s seventh consecutive make from deep, and Vasturia’s 3 with 11:43 to go gave the Irish a 19-point lead.
”We were getting rebounds, getting stops and pushing the ball up the court,” Grant said of Notre Dame’s second half turnaround. ”We had people spotting up on the 3-point line and I was able to attack.”
A 7-0 Wake Forest run got the Irish lead under 10 with 4:58 to go, but Connaughton responded with a 3-pointer from the wing on an assist from Grant, his 10th of the game.
”He makes the game a lot easier for all of us,” said VJ Beachem, who scored 10 off the bench for the Irish. ”A lot easier.”
The Deacons, who lost by two points to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday, took their largest lead, 36-32, with 3:28 left in the first half with Thomas’ three-point play on a thunderous two-handed dunk.
Thomas had 15 points and eight boards by halftime, but was less of a factor in the second half.
”We were able to come and help a little bit more,” Brey said. ”We came down a little more and jammed him up.”
Notre Dame: Grant joined Chris Thomas as the only players in Irish program history to record at least 1,500 points and 600 assists. … This marked the first of three games in seven days for the Irish after a week off.
Wake Forest: The Deacons made their first ever trip to South Bend and lost their first game to the Irish after winning the three previous contests between the programs. … Manning’s last trip to Notre Dame came during the 1988 season when he played for Kansas. The Jayhawks lost to the Irish, but went on to win the national championship that year.
Notre Dame: visits Boston College on Saturday.
Wake Forest: host Virginia on Feb. 25.