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Men’s Basketball: Cooley leads charge against DePaul

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Irish broke the 80-point mark for the first time in conference play this season en route to a hard-fought 84-76 win over DePaul on Saturday. Led by a double-double from junior forward Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (17-8, 9-3 Big East) extended its season-high winning streak to six games.

“I told our team, that’s as good of a win as the previous two Saturdays because of what we deposited in the bank,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.  “We were very human today. For us to try to figure it out and get out of here and do enough to win, I’m really proud of them. We took another step forward.”

DePaul (11-13, 2-10) troubled Notre Dame until the final minutes, pressuring the Irish backcourt with a full-court press that contributed to Notre Dame’s 12 turnovers.

Tied at 68 with 6:38 left in the game, a technical foul on DePaul coach Oliver Purnell jumpstarted a 7-0 run for the Irish, highlighted by a three-pointer from sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich.

After each team traded baskets, sophomore guard Eric Atkins’ runner with 1:57 left gave the Irish a seemingly comfortable six-point lead before DePaul sophomore guard Brandon Young hit a quick three-pointer to cut the lead back to three. But sophomore guard Jerian Grant hit four free throws late to add to his 15 second-half points and 22 total points to seal the Irish victory.

“[Atkins and Grant] really believe we are going to win,” Brey said. “We’ve not had a backcourt like that in our history … When they sense the moment, they’ve made big plays for us.”

Cooley, who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, was a force in the low-post all afternoon, hitting all five of his shots in the first half while also recording four blocks. The junior had the task of defending the Blue Demons’ leading scorer, holding sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin to 16 points. Cooley also drew a big charge with just over a minute left in the game to stifle the DePaul attack.

“In the first half we didn’t really have that fire under us that we have had in the last couple of games,” Cooley said. “[The charge] was a huge defensive play. The goal from the beginning was to get [the ball] in the post. It allowed me to score and allowed us to get a nice little run going.”

Notre Dame came into the game seventh in the country in least turnovers committed, averaging just 10.5 turnovers per game. But the Irish turned the ball over nine times in the first half, leading to an 11-0 points-off-turnovers margin in favor of DePaul.

“I’m really impressed with DePaul,” Brey said. “They just have a lot of guys who can put it in the basket. They don’t turn it over, and man do they speed you up. It wears on you and exhausts you.”

The Blue Demons also got a major boost from their bench play, outscoring the Irish bench, 40-10, led by senior guard Jeremiah Kelly’s 17 points. However, the Irish managed to outscore DePaul with 50 points in the second half on 59.6 percent shooting from the field for the game.

Looking to add to their six-game winning streak, the Irish will host Rutgers on Wednesday with tipoff at 7 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]