It took 20 minutes, but Notre Dame eventually got in the lane, got shots to fall from the perimeter and ultimately set up shop inside St. John’s head for a 66-40 victory Tuesday in South Bend. The Senior Night win and Purcell Pavilion season finale boosted the Fighting Irish to 23-7 overall and 11-6 in Big East Conference play, keeping a top-four finish in play with one game remaining.
Jerian Grant led the Irish to victory in their final home game of the 2012-13 season
The 24th-ranked Irish head to Louisville Saturday without freshman forward Cam Biedscheid, however. The rookie was involved in a late-game brawl with Red Storm sophomore swingman Sir’Dominic Pointer, who threw a first punch with a minute, 46 seconds remaining after the two exchanged words near the Irish foul line. Head coach Mike Brey had called a timeout to sub out senior forward Jack Cooley in order for the big man to be recognized by the crowd.
That’s when blows were exchanged and both Pointer and Biedscheid were ejected from the contest. Pointer was called for a flagrant foul a few minutes earlier when he poked Irish senior forward Tom Knight in the face.
“I didn’t really see it,” Brey said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened. Guys have to defend themselves, and I thought [Biedscheid] did. It’s unfortunate now Cam will have to sit out of the Louisville game under that rule. I thought everyone felt bad that it happened, St. John’s and Notre Dame. I’m glad that our guys didn’t escalate it and we didn’t have anyone come off the bench.
“That rule can cost you a lot of guys if it escalates. I thought we kept cool heads and got through the night. It’s just too bad that it put a black eye on a neat Senior Night. I was trying to get Cooley a standing ovation and that broke out. I think he got a delayed one.”
Notre Dame experienced nearly a 20-minute delay in showing any life whatsoever until junior point guard Eric Atkins drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 26-22 at halftime. After the break, when Brey’s speech centered on defense more than figuring out ways to score, the Fighting Irish went on a 21-4 run for a 51-34 cushion with less than eight minutes to play.
Junior guard Jerian Grant scored 10 points in the first half to pace the Irish, which shot just 27.6 percent (8-for-29) from the field. He added 11 more, including three more triples (5-for-6 for the night) en route to a game-high 21 points and eight assists. Meanwhile, Atkins carved up the lane and found open shooters while finding time to put up 15 points. He finished with seven assists. The guard duo combined for only two turnovers.
The Irish finished with only 11 turnovers while forcing 14. Led by Cooley’s 13 rebounds, Notre Dame had a 36-34 edge on the glass. Cooley was scoreless in the first half, but was the beneficiary of an all-seeing Atkins in the second frame, ending the night with 12 points for his 19th double-double of the season.
“Our offensive efficiency helped us on defense really well,” Cooley said. “It’s hard for them to play defense when they’re not scoring. We just did such a good job stopping their transition points that it got them frustrated and they didn’t want to play defense because they were too focused on not scoring.”
The frustration eventually boiled over.
“That sometimes happens,” Cooley said. “I don’t want to make too many comments about what happened. Everybody got a little angry; just tempers flying.”
“I don’t know what prompted it or what happened,” said Red Storm coach Steve Lavin, whose team slipped to 16-13 overall and 8-9 in league play. “The refs just said both players got in a fight and that’s why they were both kicked out. … [Dom] said he just lost his cool.”
Lavin did have an explanation for how Notre Dame stepped on St. John’s neck in the second half, which included a 17-for-25 effort (68 percent) from the field.
“You have to be able to play with intensity but also intelligence,” he said. “You have to play with passion but you’ve got too have some purpose. You have to play hard but you have to play smart. I thought in the second half Notre Dame played with great intensity, but they also played with good intellect. They brought passion on Senior Night but also were very purposeful with their attack in the second half. They played very hard but were smart. I don’t think we did that.”
Grant said the plan was to get out in run in the second half. The Irish did just that, outscoring St. John’s 22-7 in points off turnovers. Grant found his own shots, going 4-for-7 with hands in his face on step-back jumpers.
“We were kind of sluggish and Coach wanted us to get out and run and get some good looks,” Grant said.
“I thought Jerian hunted and took his shot more aggressively, and so did Eric,” Brey added. “Eric and Jerian have to go ahead and score for us, and then play off of you. They don’t have to set people up for us all the time. They are such good passers, but I think they need to score for us.”
Tension gave way to appreciation as Cooley, sixth-year senior Scott Martin, senior guard Joey Brooks and senior forward Mike Broghammer addressed the crowd after the win, thanking them for four memorable years.
JaKarr Sampson and Phil Greene registered 12 and 10 points, respectively, for St. John’s, which shot 30.4 percent (17-for-56) for the game and just 1-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc.