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December 17, 2012

Irish successful if not sharp

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Mike Brey couldn’t bear to watch.

By pulling Eric Atkins for the final 46 seconds of the first half for walk-on Pat Crowley, Notre Dame’s head coach tried to make sure he wouldn’t have to.

The unorthodox substitution wasn’t meant to send a message to Notre Dame’s point guard as much as the Irish offense at large. No. 22 Notre Dame out-lasted IPFW on Monday night at Purcell Pavilion, the 74-62 victory moving the Irish to 10-1 this season.

But barely anybody was happy about how Notre Dame got there.

“I was just disappointed with the concentration of our guards,” Brey said. “They have been so good and they’ve been so focused with taking care of the ball and shot selection. We were out of sorts because we weren’t in a good rhythm.”

Atkins and Grant shot a combined 5-of-16 from the floor and finished with 11 points. Freshman Cam Biedscheid shot 1-of-8 and 0-of-5 from three-point range.

Akins finished with four turnovers, more than his previous five games combined.

Notre Dame turned it over nine times in the first half and finished with 13 giveaways. The Irish out-rebounded the Mastodons 37-34, but were beaten by five on the offensive glass.

“It’s good to be able to flush this one and start over again,” said center Jack Cooley “We have another one on Wednesday to play hard against them and really try hard to start over really, get a new game in.”

Notre Dame hosts Kennesaw State on Dec. 19 with Niagara on deck two days later. Then comes a 15-day break before the Big East slate opens at home against Seton Hall on Jan. 5.

Pat Connaughton proved a bright spot against IPFW with a season-high 18 points to go with five assists, tying a career-high. The sophomore has hit for double-figures in back-to-back games for just the second time all season. His six rebounds also tied a season-high.

Cooley compared Connaughton’s work to former 1,000-point scorer Tim Abromaitis for showing an ability to not just knock down jump shots (Connaughton hit his only three-point attempt), but also drive to the basket. Brey joked the sophomore now has the green light to dribble more than once while attacking the basket.

“It was very, very similar in how he was cutting and moving and finishing,” Brey said of the Connaughton-Abromaitis comparison.

Connaughton had already hit for double figures by halftime when Notre Dame built a 40-28 lead, which expanded to 19 points midway through the second half. The sophomore’s play was also a big reason why he led Notre Dame in minutes played (32), a virtual impossibility most games with Brey’s usual reliance on Atkins and Grant.

But with Notre Dame’s backcourt off-the-mark on Monday, Brey needed a next best option. Connaughton provided one with a change of pace Notre Dame wants to keep with the Big East schedule three games and almost three weeks away.

“In practice this is how it happens, this is what Pat does,” Cooley said. “He really kind of looked like Tim Abromaitis out there, how he can drive it, shoot, knock down threes. It’s impressive to see how good of a players we have.”

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