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December 1, 2013

Small lineup outruns Big Red

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Two days before Notre Dame's first road game and biggest test of the young season, Irish head coach Mike Brey tried his third starting lineup in as many games. With freshman guard Demetrius Jackson injected into the starting five, Notre Dame overcame an 8-0 opening deficit to never trail again, topping Cornell 101-67 on Sunday.

Jackson replaced sophomore forward Austin Burgett -- who replaced senior forward Tom Knight a week ago -- to give Notre Dame (5-1) a four-guard look, with 6-foot-5 Pat Connaughton jumping for the opening tip, and winning by sending it toward Jackson.

"I liked that lineup in stretches in previous games, I liked it in practice," Brey said. "A lot of different guys are playing. I'm still searching, still kind of searching who's where, who's what. I told them after the game, in Iowa City on Tuesday, who knows who finishes. I have no idea."

Brey may continue to tinker with his rotation, but he did allow he expects to use the same starting five at Iowa on Tuesday. After falling behind 8-0 due to missing their first five shots, the Irish starters rolled off 10 quick points, kick-started by a three from Jackson.

"It was just a cool feeling to start. There's no difference in that the goals are still the same: come in, provide energy and play hard," said the Mishawaka native, who finished with 11 points, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. "Just do whatever I did to get me there and to be consistent with my play and to be aggressive."

Once Notre Dame snapped out of its opening cold streak, it hardly looked back. After making 4-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, the Irish shot 8-of-13 from deep in the second period. Cornell, meanwhile, regressed from a 5-of-11 first half performance to a 3-of-10 showing in the second.

Even though Notre Dame played a four-guard lineup for long stretches, the Irish did not simply rely on hot shooting -- outrebounding the Big Red by 16 and scoring 50 points in the paint -- with Connaughton leading the way with 10 rebounds, as well as 18 points. In two games last weekend, the junior pseudo-forward took seven shots in two games. Against Cornell, he hoisted 13 shots.

"It's something that his past week coach has been harping on me for," Connaughton said. "It's something they said they needed me to do, be more aggressive, and it's something that I've done my whole life.

"It's something I kind of needed to sit down and realize this is a role on the team that I'm expected of this year and it'll help jump-start our team."

Senior guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins chipped in 20 and 19 points, respectively, with Grant finishing the day with exactly 1,000 points in his career. Atkins reached the milestone in Notre Dame's sole loss, on Nov. 17 to Indiana State.

"It's exciting for me, being in that elite group," said Grant, the 55th player in Irish history to reach the mark. "Knowing that I'm in the record books here at Notre Dame."

Cornell sophomore Robert Mischler -- a Mishawaka native and high school teammate of Jackson -- sank the game's final shot, a 3 in front of Cornell's bench.

The Irish will tip off at Iowa at 9:15 Tuesday in Notre Dame's first appearance in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.


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