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Back on Track

Mike Monaco | Monday, January 21, 2013

Rebound.

Irish senior forward Jack Cooley snatched a defensive rebound 19 seconds into the game, buried a baseline jumper at the other end, scored 19 points and led the No. 20 Irish in a 69-66 rebound win over Rutgers on Saturday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame (16-3, 3-2 Big East) downed the Scarlet Knights (12-5, 3-3) after dropping their last two games. Notre Dame fell 67-63 to St. John’s on Tuesday after losing to Connecticut 65-58 on Saturday.

“Great game for us today,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of the bounce-back win. “I am thrilled.

“I told them, it’s going to be hard in this league. Things are going to be hard … but you have to fight [Rutgers] off after turning it over a little bit, missed some free throws, but we have to make some plays to steal a win.”

The Irish were forced to do just that. With Notre Dame leading 67-64 with 12 seconds remaining, Rutgers sophomore guard Eli Carter drove the length of the court and scored to cut the lead to one. Then the Scarlet Knights forced a jump ball on the ensuing inbounds pass. The possession arrow favored Rutgers.

Carter then drove the lane past his defender but Irish graduate student forward Scott Martin took a charge to give the ball back to the Irish with just two seconds remaining. Junior guard Eric Atkins drained both free throws at the other end to give Notre Dame the 69-66 lead.

“I figured that they were going to try to get to the rim,” Martin said. “My man was just standing in the corner, I hope. That is where he was the last time I saw him. I tried to get to the spot. I was able to get there just in time. I knew that was a charge. I have taken a lot of them in my day.”

Cooley said that’s exactly what the sixth-year man does for the Irish.

“Scott is the best at getting in there and taking charges,” Cooley said. “If he sets it, it is going to be a charge. It was just a great play, and it won us the game.”

Notre Dame held a 38-1 lead at halftime and quickly sped out to a 13-point advantage to start the second half. But the Scarlet Knights stormed back and cut the lead to 52-48 with 9:58 remaining in the second half. Rutgers deployed full-court pressure that forced four Notre Dame turnovers in a span of five possessions.

The Irish led 66-58 with 2:48 to play after a bucket from Cooley, but Carter, Rutgers’ leading scorer, willed the Scarlet Knights back with six of the next eight Rutgers points to cut the Irish lead 67-66 before Martin took the charge.

“You almost need to win one like that tonight,” Brey said. “I thought we really defended well and defended at key times. It was great to see Jack Cooley back in gear, Scott Martin taking that charge – that would be the guy to make a play like that at the end.”

Martin scored just four points but was picked up by the likes of Cooley. After playing just 18 minutes – none of which came down the stretch – against the Red Storm, Cooley rebounded to power the Irish with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“It was all about focusing,” Cooley said of his improved performance. “I needed to just get back out there and keep doing what I do. I watched some film from last year. Last year I had a pretty good game against these guys, so I wanted to see how I could improve from that.”

Sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton added 17 points on four three-pointers while defending Carter. Junior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant scored a combined 23 points, while Grant dished out 10 assists.

The Irish will look to make it back-to-back wins when they square off with Georgetown tonight. The Hoyas started the season 10-1 and were ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation. But since the calendars have flipped to 2013, Georgetown is 2-3, including Saturday’s 61-58 loss to South Florida.

Despite their recent struggles, Brey said he is not taking any Big East opponent lightly.

“When you have 14 [Big East] teams in the top 100 of the RPI, there’s no easy one,” Brey said. “Everybody can play. … Other than [Louisville and Syracuse] the rest of us are fighting for our lives.”

Notre Dame battles another Big East foe when it tips off against the Hoyas tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu