BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTERFINALS
NOTRE DAME VS. MARQUETTE
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,786), in New York
Rankings/Records: No. 24 Notre Dame (24-8), No. 12 Marquette (23-7).
Time/TV: Today at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Radio: Sirius channel 123, XM channel 190 and streaming live at UND.com.
Last meeting: The lone meeting this year resulted in a 72-64 Marquette victory on March 2 at the Bradley Center. This is the first time these teams have met in the conference tournament since the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles beat third-seeded Notre Dame 89-79 in the 2008 quarterfinals.
Mike Brey's hunt for his first Big East Championship title continues tonight against Marquette.
Notre Dame Notes
Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey emphasized the importance of his three main scorers leading the offseason charge in the postseason. Instead, sixth-seeded Notre Dame’s Big East Championship opener Wednesday against Rutgers featured outbursts from the two starters with the lowest average production.
Senior center Tom Knight poured in a career-high 18 points and nine rebounds to go with sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton’s season-high 21 points — a product of 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Notre Dame has reached the tournament semifinals that last three seasons. If it wants to make it a fourth straight appearance, senior forward Jack Cooley is going to have to turn things around. Cooley was a non-factor Wednesday against Rutgers and was scoreless in his team’s loss to Marquette less than two weeks ago.
Jack Cooley — The All-Big East First Team senior forward is averaging 13.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, but went just 1-of-6 Wednesday for two points against Rutgers.
Eric Atkins — The senior point guard is averaging 38.3 minutes, 11.6 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Jerian Grant — The junior guard, a second-team all-conference selection, has scored in double-figures in 16 of 19 Big East games this season and is averaging 13.3 points per game. He scored the majority of his 11 points Wednesday late in the second half.
Pat Connaughton —The sophomore guard/forward averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season before his 21-point effort against the Scarlet Knights.
Tom Knight — The senior forward is 24-of-43 (.558) from the field in the last six games. He is averaging 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and put up 18 points Wednesday against Rutgers.
Off The Bench
Freshman forwards Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste are contributing 6.7 and 3.9 points, respectively, per game. Senior center Garrick Sherman is averaging 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per outing.
The Golden Eagles, picked seventh in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll, shared the Big East regular-season title with Georgetown and Louisville with a 14-4 record. It was the first conference regular-season crown for third-seeded Marquette, winner of a 2003 Conference USA championship, since joining the Big East.
Junior forward Davante Gardner played a major role in Marquette’s surprising success this season, earning the league’s Sixth Man award. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds this season. Vander Blue, a junior guard that earned All-Big East Second Team honors, leads the Golden Eagles with 14.4 points per contest.
If Marquette is able to get to the foul line often Thursday, it could be a long night for the Irish. The Golden Eagles finished the Big East regular season second in free-throw percentage (.725). Perimeter shooting has been an issue for coach Buzz Williams’ team, which was second to last in 3-point shooting in conference play (.299). However, the Golden Eagles shot nearly 50 percent from long-range last time out against Notre Dame.
The Golden Eagles have reached the semifinals twice since joining the Big East in 2005.
Marquette got 32 points from its reserves the last time these two teams squared off. Notre Dame owned the boards, 36-25, but shot just 38.3 percent from the field and 25 percent (4-of-16) from 3-point land in the second half in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles finished the game 59.6 percent from the field and 5-of-11 from deep. Blue registered a season-low six points for Marquette in that game.
With a 10-deep rotation and a double-bye, Marquette will be fresh and looking to run. Grant and Atkins must avoid early foul trouble and Biedscheid is going to need to make an impact. If Cooley turns in a performance anything like Tuesday’s, Notre Dame doesn’t stand a chance. The program’s history at Madison Square Garden doesn’t lend itself to back-to-back big nights from behind the arc.
Morgan’s prediction: Marquette 77, Notre Dame 62
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