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Men’s Basketball: Abromaitis, Atkins lead ND to win

Eric Prister | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It was a night of familiar faces for the Irish in their first exhibition game of the 2011-2012 campaign.

The three active players on Notre Dame’s roster who saw significant playing time last season combined for just over two-thirds of the Irish points in their 90-72 victory over NAIA opponent St. Xavier Tuesday night.

Fifth-year forward Tim Abromaitis led all Irish scorers with 28 points, including three baskets on nine attempts from beyond the arc. Though Abromaitis will miss the first four regular season games due to eligibility issues, Irish coach Mike Brey said fans need to be aware of just how good of a player he is.

“I hope our fans realize that [Abromaitis] is just a beautiful player to watch,” Brey said. “He’s one of the best players in the country ⎯ enjoy it. He was a rock for us tonight with young guys running all over the place at times. He kind of steadied us.”

Despite only 23 minutes on the floor, junior forward Jack Cooley recorded a double-double in his first start in an Irish uniform, snatching a team-high 11 rebounds and chipping in 14 points.

“I was really pleased with [Cooley] playing 23 minutes,” Brey said. “I think he could’ve played more. I thought [he] was pretty productive. I don’t think he ever got worn out, and we didn’t play him for too long a segment. It’s his first start, I have to remind myself of that. But he was really ready to go. I wish he could do what he did tonight [consistently]. That was a blueprint of what we could use ⎯ 14 and 11 in 23 minutes, and there were some guys bruised up on the other team and [he had] a couple blocked shots.”

The third sure-starter for the Irish, sophomore point guard Eric Atkins, added 19 points and six assists in the Notre Dame victory. Brey said Atkins did a good job of embracing his role as a game manager while still managing to score.

“I was really pleased with [Atkins] for the most part,” he said. “I think we need to work on him defensively, but in terms of running the team and finding ways to score, because he’s going to need to do that, it was a really good night where he’s the guy. He had to be the guy and he gave us that. If you get a defensive rebound and get the ball to Eric Atkins, good things are going to happen.”

The Irish jumped out to a five-point lead early in the game and extended it to double-digits at the 3:40 mark in the first half, where the margin remained for the rest of the game. The Cougars hung around, led by sophomore guard Brad Karp’s 25 points and nine rebounds.

“I thought that was a good team for us to play because they’re older, they’ve played together and they really run their stuff,” Brey said. “They really challenged us. We couldn’t guard them sometimes. We weren’t very good defensively sometimes, and then we had some good possessions, so I think it’s a great learning tape to watch. We’re really trying to evaluate our group.”

Irish freshman Pat Connaughton came out strong in his Notre Dame debut, finishing the game with seven points, including two three-pointers, and five rebounds. Brey said he was extremely excited about the freshman’s performance.

“I was very pleased with Connaughton,” he said. “That’s how he’s practiced. He played a lot older than he is and he’s going to be important for us. When [he] played like he did in the first half, I really wanted to get him some minutes quickly with some key guys in a key part of the game, because I was really impressed and I thought that we really learned a lot there. He’s just not afraid of the lights ⎯ he loves it, and so I was pleased with that.”

The two other Irish starters, junior guard Joey Brooks and sophomore guard Jerian Grant, struggled to get into a rhythm offensively, combining for just seven points on 2-for-13 shooting from the floor.

Notre Dame played without senior Scott Martin, who was sidelined with an ankle injury. Martin averaged almost 10 points and five rebounds last season for the Irish, and Brey said he hopes Martin will be back for their next exhibition game against Stonehill on Monday.

“If it was a regular season game, we probably would have pushed it,” he said. “I’m not sure about next Monday. Certainly we need him the first four games, so I’m trying to see if we can get him back in practice midweek next week as we go into that stretch without [Abromaitis]. He’s been through a lot of practices, so if we can give him a little time to tune up before that stretch, that’s the goal.

“Here are some things to look at. It’s going to be little steps with this group. I’m kind of excited to see how we go week to week, and now we’ve got one under our belt, and we’ll try to learn from it.”

Notre Dame will take on Stonehill in their second and final exhibition game Monday before hosting Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 12 to start the regular season.

Contact Eric Prister at [email protected]