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November 3, 2012

ND flips switch, beats Stritch

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A little game pressure in a final tune-up before the start of the regular season may have been just what Notre Dame’s veteran basketball team needed Friday night.

Trailing on a couple of occasions in the first half and tied at the intermission, the pre-season No. 22/23 Irish scored the first eight points of the second half, limited Cardinal Stritch to 34.6 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes, and eventually pulled away for a 70-56 exhibition victory over the scrappy NAIA Division II Wolves, who won 30 games last season and advanced to the Elite Eight.

“That was one of those grind-it-out games, and as I told them at halftime, how many have they been in like that where they’ve had to grind, be smart on offense, and there aren’t a lot of highlight plays,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.

“These guys are running their stuff and their screening us…it was a defensive drill for 40 minutes. It takes your legs a little bit offensively when you have to chase. I love how the old guys played and I love that (freshman) Cam (Biedscheid) got a taste of that in the second half to give us breathing room.”

Biedscheid, who played eight minutes and scored two points in the first half, played 11 minutes in the second half and tossed in nine more points as the Irish slowly but surely imposed their will on Drew Diener’s squad.

“The way they were playing and the way they were shooting, we easily could have lost this one,” said senior Jack Cooley, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and three steals in 26 minutes.

“Coach said they won like 30 games last year, and if you win 30 basketball games in one season, that’s a pretty good team. They know how to play as a team and it was a good test to play a team that runs their plays as well as they do.”

Notre Dame took a 5-0 lead, but quickly realized what was in store for them with 6-foot-6 senior Jeremy D’Amico, who averaged just 3.5 points per game in 2011-12. D’Amico, who made just two three-point attempts last year, drilled all eight of his three-point shots against the Irish, added another two-pointer for a perfect 9-of-9 from the field, and finished with a game-high 26 points. No other Cardinal Stritch player scored more than six points.

“The last time someone shot like that in here was (Kyle) McAlarney against Syracuse,” Brey said. “The guy was rolling. He made two threes all of last year, but their coach did tell (assistant coach) Martin Ingelsby, ‘We want him to be a shooter.’ Well, whatever they did with him, he’s a shooter, baby.”

Cardinal Stritch took an 11-9 lead at 13:45 of the first half, but a 7-1 run gave the Irish a 30-24 lead. That was short-lived as D’Amico hit his fifth three-pointer of the first half and 5-foot-6 Mike Simpson’s basket with 40.5 seconds remaining in the half gave the Wolves a 34-32 lead. Notre Dame’s Garrick Sherman scored with 5.2 seconds left on a put-back to knot the game at 34.

Notre Dame would out-score the Wolves in the second half, 36-22. After allowing them to shoot 59.1 percent from the field in the first half, they managed just 9-of-26 shooting over the final 20 minutes.

Irish point guard Eric Atkins didn’t expect to play 39 minutes against an NAIA Division II basketball team in his final exhibition game of the pre-season.

“They’re a really good team,” said Atkins, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting (3-of-4 from three-point) with four assists, two steals and four turnovers.

“They shot the ball really well and we had to work on getting around a lot of screens and playing long possessions because they kind of play like us. Every possession seemed like it was 25, 30 seconds, and we really had to work on the defensive side of the ball.

“Having a tough game, having to deal with a little bit of controversy, being tied at half, being down at one point…I think that’s really good for the young guys.”

Biedscheid scored six of his 11 points in a three-minute span in the second half. He converted two free throws, dribbled from mid-court to the basket, and then flushed an alley-oop pass from Atkins amidst a 15-0 Irish run.

Cooley scored 11 of his 15 points and grabbed seven of his 10 rebounds in the second half. Jerian Grant finished with nine points, including 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Sherman scored all eight of his points in the first half when points were at a premium.

Brey’s bench shortened up quickly in the second half as he relied heavily on the starting lineup of Cooley, Atkins, Grant, Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton with Biedscheid mixing in. Cooley played 16 minutes in the second half while Sherman logged just two.

“Those starters have played a lot together and they’re very confident together,” Brey said. “What I’ve learned is that Garrick and Cameron have joined that fairly smoothly, and Cameron has joined that smoother than I thought it would be at this time. I thought it would be more of a work in progress.

“But he’s been very accepted by his teammates. You see how they interact with him out there and how they help him because they know we really need him to do what we want to do. I’ve been impressed with how those two guys have joined those five as we move them in and out of the game.”

Notre Dame opens regular-season play next Saturday, Nov. 10, at Purcell Pavilion against Evansville. Tip-off time will be announced after the kickoff time for the Notre Dame-Boston College game is established.

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