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Men’s Basketball: Cooley gets big in win over South Florida

Matt Gamber | Monday, February 14, 2011

No. 8 Notre Dame used an early 22-0 run to sidestep a potential trap game and trounce South Florida, 78-55, on Saturday in Tampa.

The Irish (21-4, 10-3 Big East) led 41-17 at halftime, in large part due to the play of sophomore forward Jack Cooley, whose 18 points off the bench helped spark a Notre Dame offensive attack that included six scorers in double-figures. Cooley, who entered the contest averaging 3.8 points per game, made his first nine shots and added eight rebounds.

“I think you’re seeing the development and understanding and the confidence of a young guy believing he’s a really good player with a chance to, maybe, be a great player one day,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “There’s always been flashes of this, especially in practice.”

The win was Notre Dame’s seventh straight in the conference and gives the Irish their longest Big East win streak within a single season since 2000-01, when they won eight in a row. The victory also gave the Irish their first three-game conference road win streak since 2000-01, and put Notre Dame alone in second place in the Big East standings, behind a Pittsburgh team the Irish beat on the road Jan. 24.

“This week got us confidence. The Louisville game [Wednesday] was a great win,” Brey said. “I think right now our energy level is very good. The vibe around our group, I love. And we’re in the mix and chasing down a regular-season title. It’s a realistic thing for us down the stretch.”

Notre Dame held the Bulls (8-18, 2-11) scoreless for more than seven minutes to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 24-3 lead, which the Irish sustained the rest of the way.

The early run gave the Irish a chance to use 11 players and rest some of their starters — namely senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who typically plays nearly 40 minutes per game but was only needed for 27 on Saturday. Hansbrough finished with 12 points and eight assists.

Senior forward Carleton Scott notched a double-double for Notre Dame, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis scored 12 points, and Tyrone Nash and Scott Martin each added 10. Freshman guard Eric Atkins came off the bench and chipped in seven assists in a 23-assist team effort.

Shaun Noriega scored a career-high 23 points for the Bulls.

The Irish travel to No. 25 West Virginia on Saturday, when they can match their best-ever record through 14 conference games (11-3 in 2000-01). Tip-off is at 1 p.m.