With two of its top scorers ailing, Notre Dame's upcoming break is arriving at an opportune time.
The 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish likely won't have one of those players available for their last game before that lengthy hiatus, Friday night's non-conference finale against Niagara.Notre Dame (11-1) is expected to play without Jerian Grant after he was involved in a violent collision with a Kennesaw State player in an 85-57 Irish victory Wednesday. Coach Mike Brey said the junior guard, averaging 12.1 points, bruised his back, bit his tongue and suffered "a few cuts" during the incident but did not have any concussion symptoms."I just think he is going to be too sore to do anything until we get back from Christmas," Brey said.Grant's teammate Eric Atkins is dealing with a sore lower back that's contributed to him scoring in single digits in back-to-back games. Atkins is averaging 10.8 points and is a 40.0 percent shooter from 3-point range."What we need to do is get to this break and get healthy. We played a lot of games in this segment and we're worn down a little bit," Brey said.With Grant likely out and Atkins still ailing, Jack Cooley might have to lead the way again. He recorded his eighth double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds against Kennesaw State, picking up the slack after Grant left after scoring 14.Notre Dame will try for its first 10-game win streak since Nov. 24, 2007-Jan. 5, 2008. The Irish are also seeking a 16th consecutive home win and 28th in a row over a non-conference visitor.Notre Dame won't play again until hosting Seton Hall in its Big East opener Jan. 5."We just have to handle our business and not get distracted by thinking about going home (for Christmas break)," Cooley said. "We need to play the way we play and everything will be fine."Niagara (5-6) has won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Antoine Mason, leading the team with 19.2 points per game, matched a season high with 25 in a 68-58 victory over Vermont on Sunday.Sophomore guard Juan'ya Green, averaging 15.9 points, contributed 17 after being held to a season-low nine in a 75-59 win over Hartford on Dec. 12.The Purple Eagles are facing Notre Dame for the first time since an 80-59 loss Dec. 21, 2005. The only other matchup was a 30-20 Irish victory Feb. 15, 1909.Niagara has dropped 19 straight against ranked teams since defeating then-No. 4 St. John's on Dec. 15, 1984.