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Men’s Basketball: Irish rally to win Saturday after loss Friday

By Mike Monaco | Monday, November 19, 2012

After surrendering an eight-point lead in the final minutes of regulation and losing to Saint Joseph’s in overtime Friday, the No. 20 Irish overcame a seven-point deficit early in the second half and defeated BYU 78-68 on Saturday in the consolation game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I am very proud of our team because we invested a lot of energy last night and had our hearts broken,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after defeating BYU. “We were moping around a little bit today, rightfully so, and I thought by pregame meal we had our heads up.

“I’m impressed with our maturity because we were in a battle and were down seven in the second half, and to find a way to get out of here with a win, I’m proud of our group. Even though we didn’t go 4-0 in this, we went 3-1, I think we found out some more about our team.”

After trailing by seven, Notre Dame (3-1) drilled four 3-pointers and went on a 16-2 run to take a 58-51 lead with just under nine minutes to play. The Cougars (2-2) cut the lead to 63-61 with 4:28 remaining, but junior captain and point guard Eric Atkins quickly poured in five points to bump the lead back up to seven. From there, the Irish closed out the game by making 10 of 12 free throws.

Atkins was 5-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, and finished with a season-high 16 points. The point guard said the difference between his performances Friday and Saturday was his composure scoring buckets down the stretch.

“Being poised mentally, yesterday when I missed shots I got frustrated and that messed my whole game up,” Atkins said. “I talked to Coach Brey and the guys, and they told me to just keep my confidence and my poise. It’s definitely tough, but the guys on the bench and the coaches just keep telling me to have confidence in myself and stay ready.”

Fellow junior guard Jerian Grant, who averaged just 8.7 points in the first three games, scored 19 points, including 17 in the second half.

“We just stayed poised and Jerian did a great job of attacking off the ball screen,” Atkins said. “I think [Grant] really got everyone involved and he got himself going driving to the hoop. So I just think we stayed poised and kept doing what we do.”

Senior forward Jack Cooley was his usual dominant self down low, as he finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

But while it was Cooley who had his way in the post Saturday, Saint Joseph’s (2-1) rode a physical frontline to a 79-70 overtime victory Friday in the semifinals.

Notre Dame led 66-58 with 4:01 left in regulation, but the Hawks closed out the game with an 8-0 run to force overtime as the Irish fell cold shooting. In the extra session, Saint Joseph’s scored the first five points and went on to outscore Notre Dame 13-4 in overtime.

“We had good looks but we just couldn’t knock them down in a timely manner at the end of the game,” Atkins said. “They did a great job defending us the whole game.”

Saint Joseph’s was fueled by its physical big men. Hawks junior forward Ronald Roberts, Jr., led the charge with 21 points and 16 rebounds and junior forwards C.J. Aiken and Halil Kanacevic combined for 26 points and 15 rebounds.

“They have a few more men than us,” Brey said. “They were more men than us tonight and that’s why they won. They play at their pace. They know who they are. They are a really good team.”

Hawks coach Phil Martelli said the overtime battle didn’t feel like an early-season non-conference tilt.

“That was a November game?” Martelli said. “Sure seemed like more than that.”

Saint Joseph’s fell to Florida State 73-66 in the championship game Saturday.

The Irish return to campus to take on George Washington on Wednesday at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu