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Men’s Basketball: Irish honor seniors in matchup with Red Storm

Mike Monaco | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Though the No. 24 Irish fell 72-64 to No. 15 Marquette on Saturday – Senior Day for the Golden Eagles – Notre Dame hopes to embody some of the Eagles’ mystique during the game as they head into their own Senior Night matchup tonight with St. John’s.

“Well, they had a little Senior Day magic, didn’t they?” Irish coach Mike Brey said Saturday in a postgame interview with UND.com. “One thing I said [in the locker room] was ‘I’d like to enjoy a Senior Night on Tuesday like these guys enjoyed a Senior Night. So let’s get on back and get to practice.'”

For the final time of their careers, the Notre Dame seniors will take the familiar floor at Purcell Pavilion when the Irish (22-7, 10-6 Big East) square off with the Red Storm (16-12, 8-8).

Irish senior forward Jack Cooley will likely return to the Notre Dame starting lineup after being sidelined for much of Saturday’s game due to illness. Cooley played just 15 minutes, took one shot and was held scoreless as the Golden Eagles rolled to victory behind the interior play of senior center Chris Otule and junior forward Jamil Wilson, who combined for 35 points.
Irish junior guard Eric Atkins said Notre Dame had to change its approach without Cooley on the floor.

“That’s our horse inside,” Atkins said Saturday of his fellow tri-captain. “We can go pass it to him when they’re doing a good job up top, and he can go get a basket for us. But [Saturday] he wasn’t there for us, so it made it a little different. We have to use the ball screen a little more, do a couple different things.”

Without their workhorse down low, Atkins and fellow junior guard Jerian Grant comprised the bulk of the Notre Dame offense, combining for 37 points and hoisting nearly half of Notre Dame’s shots. The guards also committed seven of  Notre Dame’s 13 turnovers in the loss.

“[One] thing that really hurt us was nine first-half turnovers,” Brey said. “Turnovers in the first half gave [Marquette] a lead that was just too hard of a hole to dig out of in the second half.”

When Notre Dame faced off with St. John’s on Jan. 15 at Madison Square Garden, Cooley was similarly limited. The double-double machine logged just 18 minutes due to foul trouble as the Irish fell 67-63 to the Red Storm. St John’s has won the last three clashes with Notre Dame.

Saturday’s loss to Marquette jettisoned the Irish into a tie for fifth place in the conference with Syracuse. The Orange (22-7, 10-6), however, own a tiebreaker over Notre Dame. For the Irish to improve their standing in the conference, they would need to win each of their last two games – Notre Dame concludes the regular season against No. 8 Louisville on Saturday – and receive help from other teams.

As for handling their own business, the Irish, led by their seniors, have been historically stout in their four years in South Bend. The group has compiled the most Big East victories in a four-year stretch since Notre Dame joined the conference in 1995. The crew is also three wins away from becoming the program’s all-time winningest class overall.

Three Notre Dame seniors have already played their final games in an Irish uniform. Guard Joey Brooks has not played this season, and the 6-foot-6, 223-pounder will suit up at tight end for the Notre Dame football squad during spring practice. Forward Mike Broghammer has been hampered by knee injuries throughout his career and was ruled out for the season in the preseason. Graduate student forward Scott Martin, who has been dealing with knee injuries of his own, is out for the season as well.

Nonetheless, the Irish will be looking for some of Marquette’s magic.

“This is the winningest senior class in Big East [school] history with 47 Big East wins,” Brey said. “They’re three away from being the all-time winningest class.

“We need to send them out like Marquette just sent their seniors out.”

The Irish tip off against the Red Storm on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu