Marquette did what it seems to always do at home — win. How the No. 22 Golden Eagles shook off No. 21 Notre Dame 72-64 Saturday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, however, was anything but routine Marquette basketball.
Eric Atkins and the Irish couldn't spoil Marquette's Senior Day Saturday.
With the aid of 13 turnovers by the Fighting Irish, Marquette connected on its first six shots of the game, knocked down 4 of 6 attempts from 3-point land in the opening half and received a season-high 16 points from center Chris Otule, who was averaging less than five points per game leading up to the contest, to remain in control for the duration of its Senior Day and pick up its 25th consecutive home victory.
The Golden Eagles (21-7, 12-4) entered the game second to last in the Big East Conference in 3-point shooting (29.7 percent), but used an effective inside game to open up the perimeter to finish 5-for-11. Combined with the fact that Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley was suffering from flu-like symptoms, which forced a trip to the campus infirmary late in the week, the Irish weren’t able to gain traction.
“We were really digging out of a hole the whole first half,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey told UND.com after the loss. “Those early inside buckets kind of set the tone. We wanted to try and take those away and we didn’t. The other thing that really hurt us was nine first-half turnovers. I think they had 14 fast break points. Turnovers in the first half gave them a lead that was just too hard of a hole to dig out of in the second half.”
Marquette moved into a tie for second place with Louisville in the league standings — a half game behind leader Georgetown, which plays Rutgers later this evening.
The Irish (22-7, 10-6) were down 41-27 at the break, though Brey admitted it felt like a 30-point deficit. Junior guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins gutted out 21 and 16 points, respectively, and freshman power forward Zach Auguste provided a spark with a career-high 15 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of action, but they seemed to be operating separately from the rest of the squad offensively.
Freshman forward Cam Biedscheid added five points and senior forward Tom Knight chipped in seven points, but Cooley (0-for-1 in 15 minutes), sophomore guard Pat Connaughton and senior center Garrick Sherman were a combined 0-for-15 from the floor to each finish scoreless.
“Obviously Jack Cooley was not healthy today,” said Brey, whose squad finished 23-for-60 (38.3 percent) from the field and 7-for-25 (28 percent) from behind the arc. He tried to go; we’ve just got to try and get him healthy for Senior Day Tuesday [against St. John’s].
“I’m very proud of our group fighting and making it interesting, but when you throw the ball away like that in the first half, which is really unlike us, we’re not going to be able to recover from that.”
Notre Dame allowed 41 and 42 points, respectively, in its last two games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Marquette, led by reserve forward Jamil Wilson’s 19 points, got to 41 at intermission. Nine Golden Eagles went on to score in a game that was perhaps two Notre Dame possessions away from being a tight one down the stretch.
Down 14 points six minutes into the second half, the Irish chipped the deficit to 56-46 on a Knight tip-in with 9:32 remaining. Sherman missed a point-blank baby hook and Connaughton couldn’t get a wide-open 3-point look to drop on back-to-back possessions that cut have made it a five-point contest. Notre Dame got to within nine points, grabbed an offensive rebound for a chance to get even closer, but Knight stepped out of bounds for another critical turnover.
“Some of the turnovers we had in the second half — we had a big one when we got it down to single digits that kind of broke our back,” Brey said. “I thought the story was just not taking care of the ball like we have this year. But their defense really had a lot to do with that. They can really guard.
“We left our feat a lot to make plays. Against their length, it’s danger all the time. If we leave our feet on Tuesday night, because St. John’s is long also, we’ll turn it over again.”
Marquette finished 28-for-47 (59.6 percent) from the field and was 11-for-18 at the foul line (ND made 11 of 19 free throw attempts). Notre Dame outrebounded the Golden Eagles 36-25 and actually outscored its opponent 19-16 off turnovers (Marquette finished with 15 giveaways).