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November 10, 2012

Defense digs in for opening win

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Missing shots didn't stop No. 22 Notre Dame from opening the season with a victory.

Rather than get bogged down by offensive inefficiency, the Irish dug down on defense Saturday afternoon, holding Evansville to 31 percent shooting in a 58-49 victory. Jack Cooley recorded his 14th career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

"It was great to see that body language," said head coach Mike Brey, "where, 'We can't get away from this team so we've gotta keep guarding and keep figuring it out all the way down the stretch."

Cooley started his night by scoring the first nine Notre Dame points, which included his first career three-pointer, en route to an early 14-4 lead.

By halftime Cooley had 13 points and five rebounds while working through consistent double teams. The Irish took a 28-21 lead into the locker room despite shooting 45 percent from the field while Evansville went just 8-of-26 from the floor.

Seven first half Irish turnovers helped the Purple Aces hoist four more shot attempts. Notre Dame turned it over 13 times in total.

"A little high for us," Brey said. "But they're pretty good. They made you work. They jammed it in. I thought we did a good job skip passing and driving. We were smart enough to figure it out. I really like how we adjusted to who we were playing and how they were playing us. Again, that starting nucleus has done that a bunch."

Notre Dame built its lead to 10 points coming out of the half and worked it to 13 with a layup from Jerian Grant, who finished with 11 points, midway through the period.

Forward Scott Martin went missing from the score sheet until well into the second half but produced on the back board. He grabbed 17 rebounds, a career high.

Martin, who finished with six points, now has five double-digit rebounding games in his career.

"There were so many misses today I was bound to get a couple of them," Martin said. "Some days the ball just bounces your way. Today it bounced mine. I think it helped a little that Jack got in a little foul trouble so then I got a little more freedom because he usually snags those up. I have to thank Jack for getting in a little foul trouble there."

Cooley hit the bench after picking up his second and third fouls of the game early in the second half. Despite trading baskets, Evansville never took advantage of Cooley's absence, never getting closer than seven points.

As the second half rolled on, Cooley didn't commit another foul while finishing with a career-high six blocks to go along with the double-double.

"I thought it was a pretty good game," Cooley said. "It was a very physical game. That was basically a Big East game how physical it was in there. It was a little unexpected because of their size but they just came out and played hard. I'm a little disappointed in my free throws but, you know, it was a good game."

D.J. Balentine hit a couple three-pointers in the final minute, cutting a 14-point lead to single digits. The Irish helped by missing four straight free throws down the stretch, including a couple from Cooley. They shot just 60 percent from the free throw line.

"I think we're gonna shoot free throws better," Brey said. "We had to overcome that. I'd like to see us get back into a rhythm Monday night. I think we can shoot it, overall, a little bit better than that."

Notre Dame returns to the court at 7 p.m. Monday against Monmouth again as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.


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