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December 15, 2012

Irish claim Crossroads victory


INDIANAPOLIS - A 17-2 run to start the second half was enough for No. 22/24 Notre Dame (9-1) to put away a struggling Purdue team, 81-68, as the Irish connected on 16-of-their-last 18 free throws over the final 4:35 in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.

"I thought that was really business-like by us today," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "We're an older team and I thought it was men kind of playing like men. I'm thrilled with our defense, especially in the second half, to hold them scoreless for a while."

Leading 39-31 at halftime, the Irish went on a 17-2 run to start the second half, limiting the Boilermakers (4-6) to just two points in the first 9:38 of the final stanza.

But the victory wasn't without its drama as seldom-used Purdue freshman Rapheal Davis - averaging just 9.8 minutes and 3.2 points per game - scored 21 second-half points after logging just six minutes without a shot in the first half.

"He got going, didn't he?" Brey said. "You know you're going to have to fight them off a little bit. I thought we kept our poise and didn't panic, even though they made a heckuva run and hit some shots. We didn't expect that out of (Davis), but he was hard to guard."

Davis kept the champagne on ice longer than most expected after the Irish took a 56-33 lead with 10:36 remaining. The 6-foot-5, 211-pound rookie connected on 8-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line to finish with 21 points, eclipsing his previous collegiate high by 13. All 21 of Davis' points came over the final 10:22.

"He had a good game," said Purdue head coach Matt Painter. "He's a good scorer and he definitely gave us a lift in the second half. He got aggressive and started to attack the basket.

"He needs more time, he needs more minutes. It's hard with the make-up of our team for that to happen, but if he keeps playing well and playing consistent, he's going to put himself in a position to be out there a lot."

With the crowd rapidly dwindling after Butler's 88-86 overtime victory over No. 1-ranked Indiana, the Irish slugged their way to a 39-31 halftime lead behind the playmaking of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, and the inside play of Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman. Atkins and Grant each scored six points and dished out five assists in the first half while Cooley tossed in 11 points and Sherman connected on all three of his field goal attempts.

Notre Dame quickly pulled away in the second half. After Davis' explosion and four missed free throws in a row by Notre Dame, the Irish salted the game away at the line.

"We were a little shaky there at the beginning," Brey said. "But I turned to Coach (Anthony) Solomon and said, 'Boy, we're making free throws. This group has been in this position a lot.'

"They have iced games away at the line and they did that like a group that's done it before."

Atkins finished 8-of-13 from the line after missing three in a row.

"At that point, we just really wanted to try to get one stop and we really started hitting our free throws," said Atkins, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and three steals in 38 minutes of action.

One of the keys was Notre Dame limiting Purdue senior guard D.J. Byrd to 4-of-11 shooting from the field, led by the defensive effort of sophomore Pat Connaughton, who also finished with 16 points.

Connaughton's three-pointer with 5:19 remaining pushed Notre Dame's lead back into double digits for good.

"That gives you breathing room right there," Brey said. "That was a big bucket that kind of makes you feel like you're going to escape and makes them feel like it's going to be a tough one."

Cooley finished with a team-high 18 points to go along with nine rebounds.

"We played really well on defense and they didn't score," said Cooley of Notre Dame's second-half surge. "They only had two points in the second half for quite a while. We knew how to guard certain players and our guards did a great job on the perimeter.

"We're playing really well, especially on the offensive end. We've been great on defense, but now our offense is catching up to our defense and we're playing really well. No one is selfish, and that's great to see."

Scott Martin, playing against the team from which he transferred following the 2007-08 season, scored five points in the first 4:22, and then focused mainly on defense and rebounding the rest of the way, finishing with eight caroms. His last act of the night was a charge taken in the waning moments.

"That's what's amazing about this guy," said Brey of Martin. "You've got the game pretty much put away and he's still taking charges. And he's 32-years-old in his eighth year of college.

"I'm thrilled with him. I'm going to miss him. He's one of my favorites I've ever had. He has a feel for the game, he's been a guy that has helped other guys get better, he's helped us flow on both ends of the floor, and he's taught our young guys how we play. He's going to be a heckuva coach one day."

Purdue, which came into the game connecting on just .262 of its three-point attempts, was limited to 4-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc, three of which were made by Byrd, who finished with 13 points. Freshman Ronnie Johnson added 15 points for the Boilermakers.

With final exams behind them, the Irish can focus on basketball again. Notre Dame hosts IPFW, Kennesaw State and Niagara Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week at Purcell Pavilion, where the Irish have won 42 of their last 43 games.


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