Irish win first of three in busy week

Photo Courtesy: USA TODAY SPORTS

No. 22 Notre Dame moved to 10-1 on the season with a workmanlike 12-point win over in-state foe IPFW.

SOUTH BEND -- Pat Connaughton scored a season-high 18 points and Jack Cooley added 14 and eight rebounds as Notre Dame subdued a live IPFW squad, 74-62 at the Purcell Pavilion Monday night.

Coming off his previous high game, a 16-point outing in a 81-68 victory over Purdue Saturday, Connaughton connected on 7 of 9 shots from the field including a quartet of strong finishes at the basket and, out of character, just one three-point attempt.

"I think it came down to practice. I've been (driving) a little more consistently, the guys have been on me to do it more consistently," said Connaughton of his approach. "Last year I was more of a shooter, one-dimensional, and that's part of an expansion I have to make."

The Mastadons (5-7) hung tough despite trailing by double digits for the bulk of the game's final 28 minutes. The visitors, led by Joe Edwards and Luis Jacobo with 11 apiece, cut the Irish lead to 11, 57-46, before Connaughton drained his only three-point attempt of the contest, a step-back, fadeaway offering as the shot clock sounded near the game's 8:00 mark.

"I think that's really helped us," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of Connaughton's concerted effort to go to the rim. "He's been doing it in practice and he started doing it against Purdue (Saturday), and we've tried to keep motivating him to do that. It gives us a whole other element.

"He could always finish there, he just needed to do it more. The thing he's doing is getting in there with two dribbles and making passes and he didn't do that at all last year. That's where he's made big improvement."

Connaughton added five assists and six rebounds, the former making up for a lackluster effort by the team's backcourt tandem, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

"Our guards weren't as good tonight," said Brey. "The weren't as good as they've been and when they aren't, we labor. They get a chance to bounce back and practice in another game on Wednesday."

The pair produced a combined 10 assists vs. five turnovers, but the offense lacked its standard home court flow. That became obvious to the sparse crowd when Brey inserted walk-on Patrick Crowley for his first-ever opening half action late in the proceedings.

"I was just disappointed with the concentration of our guards. They had been so good, and so focused in taking care of the ball and shot selection, that we were out of sorts because they both weren't in a good rhythm.

"I know they were disappointed, so that's why I just said 'I can't watch it anymore.' We'll talk about it at halftime.'"

6th-year senior Scott Martin added 13 points and seven rebounds including three buckets from beyond the arc. Martin, Cooley, Connaughton, and backup center Garrick Sherman connected on a combined 21 of 30 field goal attempts, but t Atkins and Grant, coupled with swingman Cameron Biedscheid managed to connect on only 6 of 24 from the floor.

Notre Dame moved to 10-1 on the season and will conclude a busy December with two more games this week: Wednesday vs. Kennesaw State and Friday vs. Niagara.

The Irish then won't play again until January 5, the team's Big East opener vs. Seton Hall in South Bend.

"These are an important four days: two days of practice and two games," said Brey of the remainder of the week. "We have a heck of a gap. We have a bye in our first week (of conference play), so we have a lot of practice after we come back on the 26th.

"We feel we have a little unfinished business, that we left one on the table vs. St. Joe," he said of Notre Dame's only loss. "Up eight and we couldn't close. That one sticks with us a little but I'm pleased where we are."

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