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Men’s Basketball: Slow start dooms Irish at Marquette

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, March 4, 2013

In its last two games before Saturday, No. 21 Notre Dame had given up an average of just 41.5 points per game, breaking its record for fewest points allowed against Big East competition.

Against No. 22 Marquette on Saturday, the Irish gave up 41 in the first half alone before falling 72-64 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

With the victory, Marquette – 16-0 at home this season – extended its home winning streak to 25 games and clinched a double-bye in next week’s Big East tournament. The Golden Eagles (21-7, 12-4 Big East) haven’t lost at home since 2011.

Irish forward Jack Cooley (30 minutes per game, 13.9 points per game) scored zero points in 15 minutes of playing time, suffering from a flu virus that kept him out of action leading up to the matchup with the Golden Eagles.

“[The rhythm] changed,” Irish coach Mike Brey said during his postgame press conference. “It changed. [Cooley’s] our warrior. Against [Marquette senior center Chris] Otule and [junior forward Davante] Gardner, you want to have Jack Cooley. You want to have that guy. He scrimmaged Wednesday, and he didn’t do anything Thursday or Friday. He was in the health center Thursday night.”

“[…] In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have started him and when your main guy says he’s a go, you have got to give him a chance to sweat it out.”

Notre Dame (22-7, 10-6) has lost three of its last four on the road and continued to struggle with a slow start. Marquette jumped out to a 12-3 lead on 5-for-5 shooting and didn’t miss a shot until four and a half minutes into the game. The Golden Eagles started the game on an 18-6 run.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Brey said. “When they get two buckets in the paint to start, it just sets a heck of a tone. And it seemed like it was so hard for us to score. … We get worn out early and just try to make a run.”

Marquette shot 64 percent in the first half compared to Notre Dame’s 37 percent, which lead to a 16-point Golden Eagles lead with 4:26 to go in the first half.

“The last couple of times on the road, people have scored right away, off the tip on their first possession,” junior guard Eric Atkins said. “We have to do better at that. Mentally, it kind of hurts you a bit being on the road and being scored on early. It’s one thing that carried over to the offensive side of the ball.”

With Cooley’s absence, Marquette went to their big men early, led by Gardner and Otule. Otule tied a season-high with 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting.

Junior forward Jamil Wilson, who has scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games, tied a career-high with 19 points, including a three-point play with 4:13 left in the game that put the Marquette lead back at 11.

“I was scared of both [Otule and Gardner],” Brey said. “Otule has really good footwork in the post and buried us a couple of time and really got deep post position, which was hard to recover from. A couple of times, we played pretty good post defense, and it was such a good night for them, they made some tough jump hooks.”

The Irish made things interesting in the last 10 minutes of the second half, as a free-throw by junior guard Jerian Grant with 7:30 left cut the lead to single digits for the first time since midway through the first half. Grant led the way for the Irish with 21 points and seven rebounds.

A dunk off an inbound pass by freshman forward Zach Auguste cut the Marquette lead to eight with 4:17 left and capped a 10-3 Irish run before the Golden Eagles pulled away. Auguste notched a career-high with 15 points, while Atkins added 16 points and six assists.

The Irish currently sit in a tie with No. 12 Syracuse for fifth place in the Big East and are a half game behind fourth-place Pittsburgh. Notre Dame will close out the season with Senior Night on Tuesday against St. John’s before the regular-season finale at No. 10 Louisville on Saturday.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu