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Irish Finish Non-league Slate 12-1

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team crushed Niagara 89-67 Friday night at Purcell Pavilion to extend its win streak to 10 games — the longest in five years — and transition from nonconference play to the Big East schedule with a 12-1 record.

Jack Cooley produced a co-national high ninth double-double Friday against Niagara

Senior forward Jack Cooley exploded for a double-double in the first 17 minutes of the contest and finished with a game-high 24 points and 15 rebounds. Junior guard Jerian Grant, who was banged up Wednesday night in the second half against Kennesaw State, having to leave the game with a bruised back, finished with 13 points, and classmate Eric Atkins (point guard) registered 12 points. Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid came off the bench and produced 15 points, including a 4-for-4 effort from behind the 3-point line.

“We’ve got a group that has a chance to be special,” Irish head coach Mike Brey told after the win. “I’m thrilled with where we’re at with our nonconference — we’re done with that.”

And Notre Dame is sitting pretty before kicking off league play on Jan. 5 at home against Seton Hall because of Cooley’s dominance.

“He set the tone early,” Brey said. “We’re smart enough to know and unselfish enough to know that if it’s going good, keep going there. Keep throwing the thing there. Jerian and Eric and Pat and Scott and Cam keep throwing it in there. That’s what this team does. If one guy is rolling, we’ll go with him. If it’s someone else, we’ll go with that.

“There’s no insecurity about that. Jack has had a fabulous nonconference stretch, and I want him to get some rest because we’ll need all that physicality in the Big East season.”

Niagara’s Marvin Jordan drained a triple for his team’s only final lead of the game — a 16-15 advantage with 12:39 to play in the first half. Biedscheid answered from deep on Notre Dame’s next possession and the Fighting Irish built a 42-34 lead by halftime. Cooley put up 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes for his ninth double-double of the year, which ties Sienna’s O.D. Anosike for most in the nation this season.

Niagara shot 41.2 percent (14-for-34) from the field and made 6 of 14 attempts from behind the arc in the first half. The Irish shot 50 percent (13-for-26) from the field and made 4 of 11 shots from 3-point land.

Another Biedscheid triple pushed the Irish to a 51-39 cushion five minutes into the second frame before Grant heated up for 11 second-half points. A gassed Purple Eagles outfit faded and left South Bend with a 5-7 record.

Notre Dame outrebounded Niagara 40-28 and outscored its opponent 19-7 at the foul line. It was the second consecutive night the Irish shot over 86 percent from the stripe (19-for-22). Prior to the Kennesaw State game Wednesday, Notre Dame hadn’t shot higher than 72 percent from the line.

“They gave us some problems early,” Brey said. “We had to go to a little bit of zone, which helped us. I thought our defense in the second half was excellent. Throughout the game, offensively, our efficiency offensively is really excellent. I think what you saw tonight was a team that really played well together and kind of methodically put the dagger in over time.”

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