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Notre Dame-Niagara Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. NIAGARA
Where: Purcell Pavillion (9,149), at Notre Dame
Rankings & Records: No. 22 Notre Dame (11-1); Niagara (5-6)
Time/TV: Today at 7 p.m. EST on ESPNU.
Last Meeting: This will be the third meeting all time between Notre Dame and Niagara. The Fighting Irish are 2-0 against the Purple Eagles, winning 30-20 back in 1909 and 80-59 in 2005.

Garrick Sherman will likely start tonight in place of an injured Jerian Grant

Notre Dame Notes
This is the final nonconference contest for the Fighting Irish and head coach Mike Brey before a two-week break and the Big East Conference opener against Seton Hall on Jan. 5. Notre Dame has a chance to enter league play with only one loss for the first time since 2010-11 (11-1) and for only the fourth time since joining the conference in 1995.

It’s the fourth game in seven days for Notre Dame, which is coming off an 85-57 victory over Kennesaw State on Dec. 19. The Irish are trying to extend their winning streak to 10 games, which would be the longest spree since the 2007-08 campaign when they won 10 straight from Nov. 24-Jan. 5. It would be the third win streak of at least 10 games under Brey. Notre Dame collected 12 straight victories in 2006-07 season (Nov. 14-Jan. 3).

Junior Jerian Grant was injured in the second half against Kennesaw State and isn’t expected to play versus KSU. The guard attempted a dunk on a fast break and was undercut, which resulted in a hard fall on his back that caused a severe bruise and minor cuts to his mouth. Grant has started 11 games this season and is averaging 12.1 points and 5.08 assists per outing.

Probable starters:

Jack Cooley The senior forward is tied for second nationally with eight double-doubles this year, including five in the last seven games. He’s on a career-best scoring streak of seven straight games in double-figures, and is averaging team highs in points (14.5) and rebounds per game (11). His rebounding production is tops among Big East programs and his 62.7 shooting percentage is tied for third in the league.

Garrick Sherman The senior center has started two games, including Wednesday’s game against Kennesaw State. He has registered 9.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 12 appearances (18.2 minutes per game). He leads all Big East players with a .652 (45-for-69) shooting percentage.

Eric Atkins The junior point guard is mostly responsible for the Irish ranking second in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.71) and fifth in assists per game (19). Atkins is coming off a career-high 13 assists against the Owls — the most for an Irish player since Tory Jackson dished out 15 in a loss to Syracuse in January of 2010. He’s adding 10.8 points per game.

Pat Connaughton The sophomore guard has produced three consecutive double-figure games, which is a career best. Over that span, he has averaged 15.3 points. In the last two contests, Connaughton has connected on 12 of 16 (75 percent) field goal attempts.

Scott Martin The sixth-year senior climbed over the 1,000-point mark for his career Wednesday. He has 728 points during his time at Notre Dame after a freshman campaign at Purdue that yielded 272 points. He has put up 8.6 points and grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game this year.

Off The Bench
Exciting freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid has produced 8.3 points per game this year in 17.3 minutes per contest. Senior forward Tom Knight has appeared in seven games with little production and freshman forward Zach Auguste saw extended playing time Wednesday, scoring 12 points and securing seven rebounds in 12 minutes.

Niagara Overview
The Purple Eagles rank 198th nationally in field goal percentage (.428) but are coming off back-to-back victories over Hartford (75-59) and Vermont (68-58). Niagara, coached by Joe Mihalich (14th year) has only one victory on the road this year (62-61 over Loyola in Baltimore).

Niagara played one of its best defensive games of the season in the win over defending America East champion Vermont. The Purple Eagles, 12-77 all-time against ranked teams, held their second straight opponent to under 60 points while keeping the Catamounts under 40 percent from the field.

Antoine Mason leads the team and is third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with 19.2 points per game. Juan’ya Green has dished out at least four assists in 10 of the 11 games this season. His four assists versus Vermont gave him 200 career assists.

Outlook
Notre Dame is 47-7 against teams currently in the MAAC. Niagara is the first MAAC opponent for the Irish since a 101-51 win over Rider on Dec. 28, 2006. The Fighting Irish have won 10 straight games against MAAC opponents. Notre Dame's last loss to a MAAC school was a 65-44 setback to Manhattan on Feb. 6, 1996, inside Madison Square Garden, a venue that’s been like kryptonite over the years for Brey and Co.

The Irish are 28-1 at home against MAAC competition and 44-1 (.978) in their last 45 home games, including a current 15-game home win streak. Notre Dame is turning the ball over 11.1 times per contest, which ranks 17th nationally, and is the highest-ranked team Niagara has faced since 2000.

Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 74, Niagara 61.

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