Feb. 15, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – For the second straight game, Jack Cooley was shoved to the floor by an opposing player. And for the second straight game, Cooley responded with a scoring outburst for Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-9 forward scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half and had 18 rebounds to lead the 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish to a 71-53 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday night.
“They really shouldn’t just push me to the floor,” Cooley said, also referring to the win over DePaul on Saturday. “It really doesn’t work out good. It kind of lit a fire under me and helped me get on a little run.”
Jerian Grant added 11 points for Notre Dame (18-8, 10-3 Big East), which won its seventh straight, Eric Atkins had 10 points and eight assists, and Pat Connaughton scored 10 points.
Notre Dame, which entered the Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday, has not lost since Jan. 16, at Rutgers. This is the third straight season the Irish have won at least 10 conference games.
“I’m very pleased with the end result,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I thought our defense was fabulous and that was the key. We could not guard them a month ago.”
Dane Miller scored 11 points as the Scarlet Knights (12-14, 4-9) committed 26 fouls, allowing Notre Dame to get 24 points from the free throw line.
Rutgers has lost four straight and six of seven.
Cooley said Brey insisted at halftime that the Irish needed the big man to get things rolling in the paint. Besides entry passes, Cooley helped himself with eight offensive rebounds.
“(Cooley) does a good job playing off of Eric and Jerian’s drives,” Brey said. “We certainly want to go to him. He’s the go-to guy when he gets offensive rebounds. He gets us extra possessions.”
The sophomore guard duo of Grant and Atkins directed an Irish offense that finished with 16 assists on 20 field goals.
“Those two find ways to get me the ball. I don’t even think I’m open,” Cooley said. “I’m telling them not to pass it and they give it to me and I’m wide open. They’re just great passers.”
Notre Dame shot only 40 percent from the field, but seven 3-pointers and the high number of free throws helped contribute to the large lead. Notre Dame led by as many as 21 in the second half.
Brey said his team’s basketball IQ allowed his players to keep control of the game throughout the second half.
“The last 8 minutes, I didn’t say much,” Brey said. “Eric Atkins was running that thing tonight. He ran the whole gym. I don’t know if he made popcorn too. He did everything tonight.”
Rutgers shot 39 percent, turned the ball over 13 times and lost the rebounding battle 37-35.
Rutgers coach Mike Rice said no one stepped up as a leader in the second half.
“You need somebody that sick of what’s taking place on the floor and right now we don’t have that,” Rice said. “Right now we have guys kind of putting their head down, bad body language. It’s a tough league. You chose this league.”
Notre Dame took a 33-28 halftime lead with the help of six 3-pointers, outweighing their 29 percent shooting in the opening half. The Irish went the first 13:52 of the game before hitting a 2-point field goal.
“Once we get punched, it looks like we have a glass jaw right now,” Rice said. “We have to respond better.”