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March 6, 2013

Senior celebration, 2nd half detonation

Remember that game against St. John’s? The night that snowstorm hit South Bend? Cam Biedscheid and who? Yeah, Cam Biedscheid and Sir’Dominic Pointer went at it late in the game, just as Jack Cooley was coming off the court for one last ovation in his final game at Purcell Pavilion.

That was pretty wild. Can’t remember seeing anything like that at Purcell Pavilion. Such are the embedded memories of rare occurrences in sports.

But from a basketball standpoint, Notre Dame’s 66-40 victory over St. John’s to raise their record to 23-7 overall and 11-6 in Big East play was a thing of beauty on both ends of the floor - at least in the second half.

After missing 21-of-29 shots in the first half, Notre Dame shot 68.0 percent (17-of-25) in the second, including 5-of-6 from three-point range. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, St. John’s couldn’t handle Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone. The Red Storm went from connecting on 41.4 percent of their shots in the first half (12-of-29) to just 18.5 percent (5-of-27) in the second half, including misfires on all nine of their three-point attempts.

Without suspended guard D’Angelo Harrison - who had 58 of the team’s 110 three-pointers through 28 games - the Red Storm had little to fall back on.

“We were able to get out in transition a little bit and not have to play against their set defense, and we did great in our 2-3 zone,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.

“We were able to jam it up and (hold them) to one and done. They didn’t have enough shooters to stretch us, and I thought we were patient in it. We kept it to one-and-done for the most part.”

The Irish have struggled in recent seasons against St. John’s because of the Red Storm’s length and athleticism. That was true again in the first half as the Red Storm built a 26-19 lead with the aid of six blocked shots (and 10 for the game).

But when Eric Atkins nailed a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in the first half, it was the launching point for an offense that out-scored St. John’s 44-14 in the second half. It was a stunning turnaround considering the Irish had exactly half of their second-half total - 22 points - in the first half.

“Get out and run,” said Jerian Grant -- who finished with 21 points and 5-of-6 shooting from three -- of the halftime message. “We were kind of playing sluggish and coach wanted us to get out and run and get some good looks. I feel like when we run, we get our best looks.”

Running against St. John’s? That’s not Notre Dame’s normal approach against the Red Storm.

“They are a really young and athletic team, and to run back against them is kind of playing into their hands,” Grant said. “But our offense was sluggish in the first half, and once we got on a run in the second half, we did pretty well.”

All of a sudden one strength starts feeding off another, and now everything the Irish touched turned to gold.

“Our offensive efficiency helped us on defense,” said Jack Cooley, who, after failing to score in the first half, finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds for his 32nd career double-double.

“It’s hard for them to play defense when they’re not scoring. They only had 14 points in the second half and that’s outrageous. We did such a good job of stopping their transition points that it got them frustrated.”

A little bit of emotion at halftime of the seniors’ last home game provided a boost as well.

“We were pissed off that we weren’t playing as well as we should have on the offensive side of the ball,” said Eric Atkins, who hit his last three three-point attempts and finished with 15 points.

“We just weren’t hitting shots (in the first half). But we didn’t talk about offense much (at halftime). We said we were going to start hitting shots and we did, but we really just talked about the defensive side of the ball.”

“Guys were mad in the locker room,” said Tom Knight, who finished with seven points and five rebounds. “We weren’t mad at each other; we were just mad at ourselves. We weren’t hitting our shots. We were disappointed in our effort in the first half. We really weren’t playing too well. Then we got in that 2-3 zone and things started turning around for us.”

Brey, who has created a “burn offense” to help the Irish dictate the tempo against more athletically-dynamic teams, felt the moment was right to turn his team loose.

“We’ve talked about our offense since Milwaukee, and one of the things was, ‘Pat (Connaughton), if you’ve got a look, take it. Cam, if you’ve got a look, take it,’” Brey said. “I thought Jerian hunted and took his shot aggressively. So did Eric.

“Eric and Jerian have to score for us, and then we’ll play off them. They don’t have to set people up all the time. They’re such good passers, but I think they have to score for us. Tonight, especially in the second half, I think we found something and I hope that can help us moving forward.”

Brey wasn’t upset with Biedscheid’s involvement in the skirmish with Pointer that led to their ejections. Biedscheid must sit out the Louisville game as a result of his expulsion, but he was - according to his head coach - reacting on natural instinct.

“Under the rule, if you throw a punch, you’re ejected,” Brey said. “But I’m not going to tell one of my guys not to defend himself when something like that happens. I told him, ‘You did the right thing, but you have to sit out.’”

Brey downplayed the coaching staff’s reaction when Biedscheid took his jersey off en route to the locker room. Assistant coach Anthony Solomon jumped off the bench and followed him.

“I love it, I love it,” Brey said. “He was pissed. He should be. He was pissed off. That’s okay. I love the kid. He plays with great emotion, and man, we’re going to need him for the post-season.”

More than anything, the Irish will need the kind of shooting and offensive aggressiveness they put on display over the final 20 minutes Tuesday night.


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