Notre Dame Blows Things Open in Second Half
In the first meeting between #18 Notre Dame and West Virginia the Fighting Irish didn't get going until late, when three three-pointers pushed them past the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Mike Brey's team got going offensively much sooner in the rematch, as a two-point lead at the half turned into a 71-44 whipping, moving their win streak to nine. This marks the first time in school history that the Irish have won nine straight Big East games, and by the game this young team has the look of a group that can make some noise next month.
"They really wanted that record," said Brey after the game. "It's really special for this group to do it. When they come back to reunions it's something they'll reminisce about and we certainly want to see if we can keep riding it past tonight. "
Jerian Grant led four starters in double figures with 20 points, shooting 8-for-11 from the field and also dishing out three assists. Notre Dame shot 61.4% from the field and 56.3% from three, numbers that West Virginia had no chance of matching. The Mountaineers shot 22.2% from the field and 0-for-7 from three in the second half, and the combination of poor shooting and Notre Dame not slowing down resulted in a 41-16 scoring margin. Kevin Jones led the Mountaineers with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Notre Dame's work on the defensive end sparked their offense in the second half, as they scored 12 points off of six WVU turnovers. The Irish found quality shots all night, and when this group is clicking they're tough to stop. Eric Atkins dished out eight of Notre Dame's 17 assists while also scoring 13 points, and Jack Cooley (13 points, six rebounds) and Scott Martin (15 points) were productive in the frontcourt. Notre Dame may be relying on some young players but they're playing beyond their years, and that's why this team has been so good and could be even better.
"Once we got that under control we were able to guard them a little better and I thought our offensive efficiency was excellent in the second half," noted Brey. "When you have the chance to put somebody away, this group has shown a cruelty to go for the jugular. That's what I really love about us and I think that can help us in March."
As for the Mountaineers, while they're in good shape in regards to making the NCAA tournament they need to finish well to avoid a poor seed. Jones and Truck Bryant will need to lead the way offensively for a team whose point guards are both freshmen, and the Mountaineers have to outwork teams to make up for their lack of athleticism. Notre Dame was able to do just about whatever they wanted offensively, and to lose by 27 points to a team that took ten fewer shots isn't good. If WVU can recommit to going inside for their points they'll be a tough out, but time is short.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Nick Barbour (High Point)
44 points (11-17 FG, 7-10 3PT) in the Panthers' 98-60 win over Campbell.
2. F/C Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure)
30 points (10-14 FG) and nine rebounds in the Bonnies' 89-63 win at Fordham.
3. F Jae Crowder (Marquette)
27 points (11-14 FG), seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocked shots in the Golden Eagles' 82-65 win over Rutgers.