Senior center Jack Cooley scored 19 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots to lead No. 22 Notre Dame to a 58-49 victory over Evansville in the 2012-13-season opener held Saturday afternoon in Purcell Pavilion.
Jack Cooley (45) scored 19 points to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks, while Eric Atkins (0) had seven points and four assists in the 58-49 win over Evansville.
Sixth-year senior Scott Martin hauled in a career high 17 rebounds, while junior guard Jerian Grant was the only other Irish player to tally in double figures with 11 points. On the defensive side of the floor, sophomore Pat Connaughton performed well while limiting Evansville’s Colt Ryan — 11th nationally in scoring last year with a 20.5 average per game — to 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was pleased with the collective defensive effort, lauding the maturity of his team on that end while not letting a sub-par effort on offense (18-of-45 shooting from the floor for 40 percent) affect it.
“This will be a good win on our resume at the end of the year,” Brey told Notre Dame Basketball Network announcer Jack Nolan of the victory against the Missouri Valley Conference foe picked to finish fifth in its league. “It was kind of a Big East [matchup] early in the year.”
The Fighting Irish entered the contest as a 13-point favorite and had early control after jumping out to a 14-4 lead in the first six-and-a-half minutes. From there, it had to grind out the victory while holding the Purple Aces to 31-percent field goal shooting (19-of-61). Notre Dame held a 28-21-halftime lead and never saw its advantage cut to within six points while extending it to as much as 15. Cooley scored 15 of Notre Dame’s first 30 points.
The starting lineup from last season remained intact with juniors Eric Atkins (seven points, four assists, one turnover) and Grant in the backcourt, Martin (six points) and Connaughton (five points) along the wings, and Cooley in the post.
The only two players to appear off the bench for Notre Dame were senior center Garrick Sherman (15 minutes) and freshman wing Cameron Biedscheid (16 minutes). Sherman scored three points and grabbed three rebounds, but he also had four of Notre Dame’s 13 turnovers. Biedscheid did not have any turnovers while scoring seven points, highlighted by his first career three-pointer with only one second left on the shot clock to give the Irish a 41-30 cushion.
The Irish did not have one of their better days from the foul line, converting 18 of 30 (60 percent). Cooley made eight of his 14 attempts, while Atkins connected on only three of his eight.
Notre Dame hosts Monmouth on Monday night (7 p.m.), the second of eight games it plays over 20 days to open the season, concluding by hosting defending national champion Kentucky on Nov. 29.