Notre Dame’s exhibition slate this pre-season opened Monday night in the Purcell Pavilion with a 111-52 romp over Quincy, a Division II program in Quincy, Ill.
Point guard Eric Atkins had 17 points (6-of-6 from the field), 13 assists, no turnovers and five steals in Monday night's exhibition win.
The Hawks returned four starters from last year’s 18-9 team but were vastly outmatched, especially in size, against the much more physical and quicker Notre Dame team that has been picked to finish third in the 15-team Big East this year by the league’s coaches. Quincy was out-rebounded 44-21, and 30 of its 55 field-goal attempts were from three-point range.
Notre Dame shot 63 percent from the field (43-of-69) and handed out 30 assists while committing only seven turnovers. Six Irish players finished with double-digit scoring, while sixth-year senior and last year’s Team MVP Scott Martin tallied nine points.
Senior forward Jack Cooley, an All-Big East pick, paced the scoring with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Especially productive was the starting backcourt with juniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Grant had 19 points and eight assists in 29 minutes, while Atkins pretty much played what could be classified as a perfect game. In 31 minutes he had 13 assists and zero turnovers, plus five steals. He also converted all six of his field-goal attempts, including three beyond the arc.
Sophomore swingman Pat Connaughton played a stellar all-around game with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
“He’s such an all-around basketball player and he’s made such great strides defensively,” Irish head coach Mike Brey told und.com after the game.
The “sixth starter,” according to Brey, is 6-10 senior Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman, who in just 20 minutes had 12 points and eight rebounds. Brey is excited about the prospect of having Sherman and the 6-9 Cooley on the floor at the same time in either high-low situations, or where Cooley can clean up on offensive rebounds — his forte — off the weak side. However, he is concerned about the transition defense with the two big men on the floor.
Freshman swingman Cameron Biedscheid also will be heavily in the mix. He played 22 minutes, and even though he didn’t shoot it as well (4-of-13, with two treys) as he usually does in practice, he had a quick 10 points off the bench in the first half and finished with 12.
“He didn’t shoot it great tonight — as good as he will — but he just finds that basket and we’re going to need him to do that,” Brey said. “He’s getting better defensively … but the man puts the ball in the basket and we’re going to need him to do it.”
Senior Thomas Knight and freshman Austin Burgett also helped off the bench. Meanwhile, an ankle injury prevented 6-10 freshman Zach Auguste from playing, but he is projected to practice with the team this week.
“Our practices are amazingly competitive because we have 10 or 11 guys that can really play,” Brey said. “It’s going to be hard to get to everybody, but I love where we’re at as a program with that many good players.
“I’m so proud of how we pass the ball … I don’t know if another team in the country can pass it like us — and will pass it.”
Louisville, a Final Four participant last year, is the overwhelming pick to win the Big East, with Syracuse second. The Cardinals received 14 of the 15 first-place votes. Because coaches are not allowed to pick their own team, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino’s first-place ballot went to Notre Dame, which returns all five starters from last year’s 21-12 team (13-5 in Big East).
Notre Dame will play its second and final exhibition game this Friday against Cardinal Stritch. The Irish will host Evansville in the regular season opener on Saturday, Nov. 10.