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NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Jack Cooley was leaving the court on Senior Night when a standing ovation turned into shock and awe.
Sir'Dominic Pointer of St. John's and Notre Dame's Cameron Biedscheid exchanged punches near center court with 1:46 remaining. Both players were ejected.
The fight may have been a draw, but the decision was unanimous as Notre Dame (23-7, 11-6) - trailing by seven points with a minute left in the first half - out-scored the Red Storm 32-8 over the next 16 minutes to claim a 66-40 victory.
"It's unfortunate that that happened," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of the fight. "Guys have to defend themselves, and I thought (Biedscheid) did. It's unfortunate that now he'll have to sit out the Louisville game.
"Everybody felt bad that happened - St. John's and Notre Dame - but I'm glad that our guys didn't escalate it. We kept cool heads and got through the night. It's just too bad that kind of put a black eye on a neat senior night."
Cooley managed to salvage a lost game-and-a-half as he was stricken with the flu in the days leading up to the Marquette game, and then struggled in the first half against St. John's. After failing to score in 15 minutes of action against Marquette and then in 16 minutes of play in the first half against the Red Storm, Cooley - who along with seniors Scott Martin, Mike Broghammer, Joey Brooks and Tom Knight took their bows - scored 12 points in the second half to go along with 13 rebounds.
"Our offensive efficiency helped us on defense," said Cooley, who recorded his 19th double-double of the season and 32nd of his career.
"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."
Most beguiling for the Red Storm was trying to contain the guard tandem of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, who combined for 36 points, 8-of-11 shooting from three-point range, and 15 assists.
Grant converted 5-of-6 three-pointers, including all three of his long distance attempts in the second half that propelled the Irish from a 26-22 intermission deficit to a 51-34 lead with 5:49 remaining.
"Jack was such a force inside. I'm thrilled for him to play like that in his last home game," Brey said. "But our guards ran the whole building tonight. When our guards are playing like that, I just sit down and shut up and let them do whatever they want. They were fabulous to watch."
Notre Dame's halftime adjustments, which included a switch to a 2-3 zone, were the difference. The Irish limited the Red Storm to 18.5 percent shooting (5-of-27) in the second half after converting just 27.6 percent of their own shots (8-of-29) in the first half.
"Get out and run," said Grant 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."
"We were pissed off that we weren't playing as well as we should have on the offensive side of the ball," Atkins said. "We just weren't hitting shots. But we didn't talk about offense much (at halftime). We said we're going to start hitting shots and we did, but we really just talked about the defensive side of the ball."
For the Red Storm, the second half was as nightmarish as the first half was idyllic.
"The second half numbers, in particular Notre Dame shooting 68 percent from the field, and St. John's shooting 18 percent…That's what led to Notre Dame winning the game," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin.
Grant finished with 21 points and eight assists while Atkins tossed in 15 points with seven assists. A basket and two free throws by Pat Connaughton helped spark the second-half run. JaKarr Sampson paced the Red Storm with 12 points while Phil Greene IV scored 10.
Pointer, who finished with a team-high 12 rebounds before his ejection, also picked up a flagrant one foul with 5:05 remaining. Moments later, he and Biedscheid were exchanging punches.
"Dom said he just lost his cool," Lavin said. "I asked him what happened and he said, 'Sorry, coach, I just lost my cool.'"
For the Irish, it's on to Louisville, where a victory and a Syracuse loss at Georgetown would earn Notre Dame a double-bye in the Big East tournament.
"We're a confident group that's excited about playing in the post-season together," Brey said. "They really are, and you know what? They should be. We've got a heckuva group. I love my team, and I love the fact that they are really excited about doing this thing in March."