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Men’s Basketball: Irish bury Marquette, advance to semifinals

Mike Monaco | Friday, March 15, 2013

NEW YORK – It was another patented slow start for No. 24 Notre Dame. And it was another patented resurgence.

The No. 6 seed Irish (25-8) rebounded from an early 13-point deficit, outlasted No. 3 seed Marquette in a back-and-forth second half and defeated the Golden Eagles (23-8) 73-65 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night in the Big East quarterfinals in New York.

“What a great college game and I’m really proud of our group,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I thought we were men the whole night. The game didn’t start really well for us, but we fought back. Two good teams going at it, and they made another run and we fought out of it. And we made such big plays at key times and everybody had a hand in it.”

After Notre Dame closed the first half on a 25-8 run, there were 12 lead changes and four ties in the second half and neither team led by more than four points for the first 16-plus minutes after the intermission.

But Notre Dame stretched its lead during the final minutes as senior forward Jack Cooley terrorized the offensive boards, junior guard Jerian Grant took control of the offense and sophomore forward Pat Connaughton kept draining 3-pointers to catapult Notre Dame into the semifinals for the fourth straight season.

The Irish will face No. 2 seed Louisville on Friday night in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which Louisville won 64-50 en route to a Big East crown.

“We’re thrilled to be playing in our fourth-straight semifinal,” Brey said. “I know no one else in the league has done that. We wonder what it would be like to play on Saturday because our program has never played there.”

Connaughton drilled six threes for all 18 of his points, while Grant played all 40 minutes and poured in 17 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists. Irish senior center Garrick Sherman provided 16 points and six rebounds off the bench. Cooley finished with six points and six rebounds before fouling out.

Trailing 17-4 through the first nine minutes of action, Notre Dame looked overmatched. The Irish made just two of their 17 shots while No. 12 Marquette shot over 60 percent at the outset.

But Notre Dame got a bucket, then another, then another. The Marquette lead dwindled to five, then three, then one before Sherman tied the game and subsequently gave Notre Dame its first lead, 25-23, at the 2:48 mark of the first half.

The Irish closed the first half on their torrid tear to take a 29-25 lead at the intermission.

“Coach just challenged us, he even asked us if we were scared and we kind of took that personally and guys came out and said you either play now or you go home, and we weren’t ready to go home,” Irish junior guard Jerian Grant said.

Against Pittsburgh on Feb. 18, the Irish missed 18 of their first 19 shots but rallied to down the Panthers 51-42 on the road.

“As a matter of fact in the huddles when it was 17-4, Connaughton kept saying it’s just like the Pitt game,” Brey said. “So I’m really proud of our group.”

In similar fashion, Notre Dame defeated the Golden Eagles while playing like a different team for the next 31 minutes.

“It was actually a good thing that we had been there before against Pitt and been able to fight back from it,” Connaughton said. “That’s really why we have so much confidence coming out of the huddles and going down towards halftime and it’s something where we just wanted to cut into the lead piece by piece.

“Coach [Brey] said ‘We’re not going to tie this thing right away. It’s going to be a process.’ And that’s something that we kind of figured out to do and that’s what we got done by halftime.”

With Notre Dame leading 56-52 late in the second half, Cooley snatched an offensive rebound, his third in less than two minutes, and kicked it out to Connaughton, who buried another 3-pointer from the wing to give the Irish a 59-52 lead.

Marquette responded, but so did Notre Dame. Grant found a cutting Atkins backdoor for the lay-in and the foul. Atkins knocked down the free throw to extend the Irish lead to 62-54 with 2:59 left in the half.

Atkins and his teammates continued to bury free throws down the stretch – the Irish were 18-for-21 as a team from the charity stripe – and Notre Dame advanced to square off with the No. 4 Cardinals (27-5).

“I just told our guys, I said ‘Coming out on Friday night for the semifinal – this is our fourth time – it’s electric,” Brey said. “I know it’s the last [Big East tournament] and we’re trying to get our money’s worth out of this thing.”

Notre Dame will square off with Louisville on Thursday at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]