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December 21, 2012

Niagara falls to Cooley, Irish

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Jack Cooley had a double-double with 3:12 remaining in the first half.

He’s just getting warmed up for Big East play.

“The way they were playing me and the way our guards were getting me the ball, it was really helpful,” said Cooley, who recorded his ninth double-double in 13 games as the Irish pulled away from an eight-point halftime lead for an 89-67 victory over Niagara.

“I just wanted to go out there and be physical, and I got a little upset at the beginning of the game, so that helped fuel me to play a little harder.”

Notre Dame shot an incredible 62.0 percent from the field (31-of-50) - including Cooley’s 9-of-12 -- and assisted on 25 of its 31 field goals. After struggling to find a rhythm earlier in the week against IPFW and Kennesaw State, the Irish closed the non-conference portion of the schedule on a more positive note.

“The way we move and share the ball is a fun way to play and a productive way to play,” Brey said. “This group has a chance to be special.”

Also serving as inspiration to Brey as the Irish head into a two-week break from game action was the fact that Niagara looked a lot like Notre Dame’s next opponent - Seton Hall - who opens Big East play with the Irish on Jan. 5.

“They play a little bit like Seton Hall,” Brey said. “Spread you out, shoot the ball, going to play some zone…

“We weren’t smart enough to schedule it that way. I’m not going to take any credit. But as I’m watching tape of Niagara, I’m going, ‘This is kind of like our next game. So let’s get into some Big East preparation and focus,’ I thought our guys did a nice job.”

The Irish also shot free throws well for the fourth straight game, connecting on 19-of-22. That’s 59 of their last 71 (.830) since the final five minutes of the Purdue game last Saturday.

The Irish had difficulty pulling away from the Purple Eagles (4-6), who came into the game having won three of their last four. A deep, experienced and athletic team, Niagara pulled to within 42-34 at halftime, and seemed poised to hang with the Irish the rest of the way.

But an 8-0 run lifted Notre Dame’s edge to 61-44 with 11:30 remaining, sparked again by Cooley as well as freshman Cameron Biedscheid, who made both of his three-point attempts in the first half and a couple more in the second half to finish with 15 points in 20 minutes.

Grant, who has been struggling to find his rhythm, finished with 13 points to go along with eight assists. He did, however, return to the starting lineup after taking a hard fall late in the Kennesaw State game Wednesday.

“I’d like to build on that when we get back and show him some film of that,” said Brey of Grant’s play. “He doesn’t have to rush it. Maybe the injured back slowed him down. He’s one tough guy to play after that fall.”

Eric Atkins also chipped in with 12 points for his sixth double-digit scoring game in his last eight.

Antoine Mason led Niagara with 17 points. But he shot 7-of-22 from the field as the Purple Eagles converted just 36.8 percent of their field goal attempts.

“It’s tough to tell tonight, but I think we’re on our way,” said Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich, who coached high school basketball at DeMatha Catholic, Brey’s alma mater.

“We want to develop and have the qualities that Notre Dame has in their team. That team is selfless, they all share the ball, and they don’t care who scores.

“That’s a real good basketball team, and now that tonight’s over, I can go back to rooting for them because Coach Brey is a good friend of mine.”

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