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Men’s Basketball: Seniors seize the storm

Mike Monaco | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On a wintry South Bend night, the No. 24 Irish used a red-hot second half and overcame icy first-half shooting to finally defeat St. John’s 66-40 on Senior Night at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday.

Propelled by a dominant second half, Notre Dame (23-7, 11-6 Big East) snapped a three-game losing skid to the Red Storm (16-13, 8-9). The Irish outscored St. John’s 44-14 in the second frame after a lethargic first half.

“Thank God there was a second half,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I am thrilled how we defended in the second half and then we finally got into an offensive rhythm. We were able to get out in transition a little bit and not have to play against their set defense.”

Trailing 26-22 at the intermission, Notre Dame stormed out of the gates on a 29-8 run, highlighted by three 3-pointers from junior guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, to kick off the second half and claim a 51-34 lead with 5:49 to play.

The Irish kept pouring it on and extended their lead to 66-38 with 2:21 remaining. Grant and Atkins scored 11 and 10 second-half points, respectively. The backcourt pair shot 5-for-5 from behind the arc in the half.

“Our guards ran the whole building tonight,” Brey said. “They probably took tickets, sold popcorn. When our guards are playing like that I just sit down and shut up and let them do whatever they want. They were fabulous to watch.”

The Red Storm had no answer for the sweet shooting of Grant and Atkins and struggled to find any offensive continuity in the second half. Notre Dame held St. John’s to 19 percent shooting from the floor after the intermission.

“Just a dominating second half of basketball,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “This was probably the most dominant second half of basketball that we’ve faced from an opponent this year.”

Irish senior forward Jack Cooley, who battled an illness last week, scored 12 points and hauled in eight rebounds in the second half after being held scoreless against Marquette on Saturday in just 15 minutes of action. The tri-captain finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

“Jack was such a force inside,” Brey said. “[I’m] thrilled for him to play like that in his last home game.”

The Red Storm led by four at halftime after a first half marked by turnovers and cold shooting from both squads. St. John’s managed to shoot 41 percent from the field, while the Irish connected on just 28 percent of their shots and the teams combined for 11 turnovers in the opening stanza.

“We were pissed off that we weren’t playing as well as we should on the offensive side of the ball,” Atkins said. “We just weren’t hitting shots.”

The Red Storm utilized their superior athleticism in the first half and opened up a 26-19 lead over the Irish in the waning minutes. Atkins stopped an 8-0 St. John’s run with a trey to trim the Red Storm lead to 26-22 at the intermission.

The game began slowly, as the teams shot a combined 4-for-22 from the field and committed three turnovers each in the opening eight minutes.

With 1:46 left in the game, Irish freshman forward Cam Biedscheid and St. John’s sophomore guard/forward Sir’Dominic Pointer exchanged blows at center court. Both players received technical fouls and were ejected. Pending review, Biedscheid will be suspended for Saturday’s regular season finale against No. 8 Louisville.

“I didn’t really see it,” Brey said of the altercation. “It’s unfortunate that that happened. Guys have to defend themselves and I thought he did. It’s unfortunate that now he’ll have to sit out the Louisville game under that rule. I think everyone felt bad that happened, St. John’s and Notre Dame.”

Without Biedscheid, the Irish will square off with the Cardinals on Saturday. Notre Dame, still holding out hope for a double-bye in the Big East tournament, is tied for fourth in the league with Pittsburgh. Syracuse, who owns the tiebreaker over the Irish, trails by a half game but has two games remaining.

Notre Dame closes out the regular season against Louisville on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu