March 15, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — Notre Dame hasn’t had a problem reaching the BIG EAST tournament semifinals. From there it’s a whole other story.
Pat Connaughton scored 18 points on six 3-pointers and Jack Cooley had two big offensive rebounds in Notre Dame’s game-changing run as the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish beat No. 12 Marquette 73-65 on Thursday night to reach the BIG EAST tournament semifinals for the fourth straight year.
Unfortunately for the Irish (25-8) the road has ended there each time – the last two times against No. 4 Louisville, who they will face in Friday night’s semifinals at Madison Square Garden. The second-seeded Cardinals, the tournament’s defending champions, advanced with a 74-55 win over Villanova.
The teams had quite a meeting in the regular season with Notre Dame prevailing 104-101 in a five-overtime epic.
This will be Notre Dame’s last chance to win the BIG EAST tournament since it is leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season and the Irish will try to do it in the fluorescent green uniforms they unveiled this week.
“What a great college game. I’m really proud of our group,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I thought we were men the whole night. The game didn’t start really well for us, but we fought back. Two good teams going at it. They made another run, and we fought out of it. We made such big plays at key times, and everybody had a hand in it.
“We’re thrilled to be playing in our fourth straight semifinal. I know no one else in the league has done that. We wonder what it would be like to play on Saturday because our program has never played there.”
And to do it they will have to get through Louisville who won the second matchup this season, 73-57.
“Here we go again,” Brey said. “When the games have been in overtime, that’s when we’ve gotten our wins. When they’ve won, they’ve usually thumped us. I hope it’s overtime. They’re really good. We just played them last Saturday, and they’re playing with a great rhythm, and it comes down to taking care of the ball.”
Jamil Wilson had 16 points and Junior Cadougan added 14 for the third-seeded Golden Eagles (23-8), who shared the regular season title with Louisville and top-seeded Georgetown.
The second half was one of lead changes and more lead changes. There were 13 in all and the last one came at 52-50 when Notre Dame’s Garrick Sherman converted his own miss with 6:32 to play.
Those were the first points of Notre Dame’s 9-2 run. Cooley, an all-BIG EAST selection, came up with two big offensive rebounds. The first he put back for a 54-50 lead and the last was one he fed Connaughton for a closing 3 that made it 59-52 with 3:30 left.
Both times the 6-foot-9 Cooley, who had six points and six rebounds, pumped his fist and the second time he did it after raising himself from the court where he made the feed to Connaughton, who had a season-high 21 points and six 3s in the second-round win over Seton Hall.
“Jack Cooley, I’m really proud of him because it wasn’t a real good night, but he kept trying, and he kept plugging, and he made some big, big plays for us,” Brey said.
Sherman, part of Notre Dame’s four-man rotation of bigs, finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
“Whatever it is, we’re just trying to make sure we’re on the floor doing our job,” Sherman said. “We’re always ready to go. Everyone has their role, and tonight is one of the nights I had to step up.”
Notre Dame was able to offset a 42-31 rebound disadvantage by going 18 of 21 from the free throw line, led by Jerian Grant’s 8-for-9 effort among his 17 points. They forced Marquette into 16 turnovers while committing just seven themselves.
“I think when you get embarrassed on national TV with 11 turnovers (in the first half) against a team that doesn’t press, you hope that you respond in a much more positive way, and I thought our guys did,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
Williams was impressed with Connaughton’s performance from long range.
“I don’t know that he took one dribble. That’s really good,” Williams said. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean, somebody else created a shot for him. That means you were in rotation, and he was standing there, and he made 6 out of 10 balls, and he did the same thing last night.”
Notre Dame led 29-25 at halftime after an opening 20 minutes that saw Marquette take a 17-4 lead only to see the Irish close it on a 25-8 run. Notre Dame started the game 2 for 17 from the field and Marquette closed it by making 3 of 17 from the field.