After a somewhat sluggish and sloppy start Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, No. 22 Notre Dame got back to valuing the basketball and weathered a late Purdue offensive flurry for 81-68 victory in the second game of a Crossroads Classic doubleheader.
Jack Cooley turned in another rugged performance Saturday vs. Purdue
Just minutes after Butler stunned No. 1 Indiana (88-86) in overtime, the Fighting Irish (9-1) took the same court looking as if they were just awakened from a mid-afternoon nap, committing uncharacteristic turnovers and shuffling slowly in their zone defense. They finally snapped out of it and put together a 39-29 halftime lead.
Head coach Mike Brey’s team came into the contest averaging just 10.78 turnovers (17th best in the nation) per game, but gave the ball away eight times in the first 20 minutes against the Boilermakers (4-6). Notre Dame took advantage of nine Purdue first-half turnovers and shot 57.1-percent (16-for-28) from the field and 42.9 percent (3-for-7) from behind the arc.
Irish senior forward Jack Cooley scored a game-high 11 points in the opening frame and Notre Dame scored on four of its last five possessions for a 6-0 run to end the half. Cooley sat for a significant portion of the second half after getting hit the chin with an elbow, but still finished with a team-high 18 points and nine rebounds, missing out on his eighth double-double of the year.
“We’re so smart offensively,” Brey, who picked up his first technical foul of the year in the first team tech since a win at West Virginia last February, told UND.com after the game. “We really love to play and know how to play together. This is one to build on.”
Despite picking up two early fouls, junior point guard Eric Atkins registered 17 points and seven assists, sophomore guard Pat Connaughton chipped in 16 points, including the first five for Notre Dame in the second half, and senior center Garrick Sherman added 11 points and three rebounds.
The Boilermakers made just 1 of 15 shot attempts to start the second half. Notre Dame extended its lead to 21 points at the 11:49 mark (54-33) before Purdue coach turned to rookie guard Raphael Davis off the bench. Davis sparked a 14-1 Purdue run, scoring 11 points to whittle Notre Dame’s lead down to 58-49 with less than six minutes to play.
Davis made 8 of 9 field goal attempts and connected on 4 of 5 free throws to blister the Irish for 21 points late in the second half. However, Notre Dame made 14 of its last 15 shots to fend off a suddenly energized Boilermakers outfit. Guard Ronnie Johnson netted 15 points and guard D.J. Byrd was limited to 13 points after a solid defensive effort by Connaughton.
“I’m impressed with our guards,” said Brey, whose backcourt was much more composed in the second half, committing just three turnovers and giving Purdue fits defensively. “Keeping people in front of them. Pat Connaughton did a fabulous job on Byrd; he just didn’t let him breathe. Cooley, Garrick Sherman and Scott Martin really helped us in ball screens today. They were there; it was truly team defense.”
Notre Dame outrebounded Purdue 35-26 and made 72.7 percent of its free throws (24-for-33). The Irish finished the game 26-for-53 (49.1 percent) from the floor and hit 5 of 15 from 3-point range. The Boilermakers shot 41 percent overall (25-for-61) and made only 4 of 12 attempts from deep.
It was sixth-year senior Martin’s first game against his former team, and he registered five points and eight rebounds.
“I thought he handled it like a man,” Brey said. “I think one of the reasons we played so well is [because] his teammates love him so much. They wanted to get this one for him. That’s the kind of teammates he has. He has been the captain that kind of stirs the drink for us.”
The Big East has stirred up headlines earlier Saturday when the seven basketball-only schools announced a pending split from the conference in reaction to continuing national realignment based on football.
“With everything going on with the Big East, it’s sad,” Brey said. “I always wanted to stay in the Big East; that was our identity. But we had to do what we had to do and we’re excited about the ACC.
“… Our guys won’t be distracted by that,” Brey said. “They know they have such a good thing going with their team, they’re ready to get better here in the next week before we break for Christmas.”
The Irish are back in action Monday night at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend when they take on Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.