DePaul was determined to ratchet up the tempo and did so at will. The Blue Demons also had five players reach double figures with a home crowd providing an emotional lift. But Notre Dame had Jack Cooley, and that was the difference in a 79-71 overtime victory for surging Notre Dame Saturday at Allstate Arena in Chicago.
Jack Cooley is making an argument for Big East Player of the Year honors this season, including his 14th double-double of the year Saturday at DePaul
The Fighting Irish have extending their win streak to three games and improved to 18-4 overall and 6-4 in Big East Conference play heading into Monday’s trip to the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. The sixth-ranked Orange were tripped up by host Pittsburgh earlier in the day and dropped to 6-2 in the league.
There were stretches of both brilliance and confusion for the Irish in Chicago, but Cooley, a product of the Windy City suburbs, was again the gritty go-getter Notre Dame has leaned on for the last two seasons. Despite playing with foul trouble for most of the game, Cooley crammed in a season-high 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the year.
“He set the tone for us physically in there, made big plays and got some big rebounds,” ND head coach Mike Brey told UND.com after the victory.
In their third game without sixth-year senior captain Scott Martin, the Irish filled that production void and then some, enjoying a 13-0 advantage in the first half in bench scoring. Continuing to shoot the ball with more confidence (other than a pair of 3-pointer far from on target in the second half), freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid scored all seven of his points in the first 20 minutes. Classmate Zach Auguste, a power forward seeing his minutes steadily increase, added six points in the first half, including an alley-oop dunk from an Eric Atkins lob.
“They have given us great energy,” Brey said. “It was only a matter of time for Zach; he was coming. I love what they gave us. They’re confident right now, and the older guys know we need them. We want to keep riding them because they give us a great lift.
With their help, and another solid performance from senior forward Tom Knight (six points, seven rebounds), who was called upon to replace Martin in the starting lineup, the Irish built a 12-point lead at the 16:29 mark. DePaul (10-11, 1-7) chipped away at the deficit and got to the break down 39-30.
Notre Dame junior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant took a while to heat up, entering the break with just three combined points. Atkins finished the day with 16 points, five assists and four steals that offset four turnovers, and Grant had 10 points and five assists.
Biedscheid struggled from the field in the second half, bricking a 3-point attempt off the backboard without drawing iron and connecting only with the bottom of the net from deep just moments later. Cooley stayed after it, tipping in his own miss and slamming a feed from Grant to make it a 52-44 game. Back-to-back turnovers by Grant and Atkins gave way to a 7-0 Blue Demons spurt that cut the deficit to one point.
DePaul regained the lead with 9:24 for the first time since early in the first half. Cooley again helped Notre Dame weather the storm, making good on four consecutive free throws after two hard fouls to tie the game at 62-62 three minutes later. The teams were never separated by more than two points the rest of the way.
Grant tied the game at 70-70 and a Cooley defensive rebound on DePaul’s next possession set up a potentially game-winning situation for Notre Dame with 23.2 seconds remaining. After an Irish timeout, a double-screen intended to free up Grant resulted in a contested 3-pointer that wouldn’t fall with four seconds remaining and the game went to overtime.
“We felt maybe we could get a ball screen for Jerian,” Brey explained. “I wish he would have drove that instead of shooting the fade-away, because I think he may have gotten fouled. Still, it wasn’t a bad look; it rimmed out. I think we did a great job executing and getting good shots in the overtime.”
Atkins drained a 3-pointer to start the bonus period, Cooley dunked the ball after a clever bounce-pass assist from Knight and Atkins added a pair of free throws to make it a 79-71 advantage.
“I’m really proud of our team’s mental toughness,” said Brey, whose team shot 27-for-62 (43.5 percent) for the game, 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) from behind the arc and just 21-for-32 (65.6 percent) from the foul line. “They (DePaul) makes the run and it’s an unbelievable atmosphere — what a great college atmosphere and college game. We had to be mentally tough to kind of get through that, and I’m really proud of our group collectively.
Guard Brandon Young led DePaul with 15 points, and forwards Cleveland Melvin and Jamee Crockett each finished with 13. The Blue Demons were 26-for-65 (40 percent) for the game and 0-for-4 in overtime. They shot 33.3 percent (6-for-18 from 3-point land and, like Notre Dame, finished with 42 total rebounds.
Irish sophomore Pat Conaughton chipped in eight points and five rebounds.