The Delta Devils hung tough for 30 minutes thanks to the efforts of a senior-laden unit but a 20-4 Irish run midway through the second half turned a 50-48 nail biter into 70-52 home court advantage with under five minutes remaining.
Part of the run was due to a pair of technical fouls on Delta Devils head coach Sean Woods, the latter resulting in an ejection with 6:12 remaining.
"We don't get a chance to play home games until January," said Woods, the former early 90s Kentucky standout guard. "You want to show your team that you have to keep fighting and you can't expect anything but (a struggle) playing on someone's home court. That's the beauty of a home court advantage, and I thought that was starting to take its toll a little bit."
Notre Dame connected on 24 of 29 foul shots vs. the aggressive, pressing visitors. Mississippi Valley State hit 3 of 8 from the charity stripe.
"I tried to throw my jacket to one of my assistants but I missed him and hit my cousin in the back," Woods joked of his second technical. "That's why they threw me out. The (first) technical was kind of planned to show my team we have to fight, and I will fight for them."
Mississippi Valley State fought back from a 10-2 deficit to lead 16-15 at the midway point of the first half and played the Irish to a near standstill, 32-28 before Atkins embarked on a 6-0 run near intermission.
"I thought Eric was a man and he sensed what he needed to do," Brey said. "We were searching for that offensive rhythm at times … I think he found that he had to do some things for us, and he did."
Notre Dame competed without the services of co-captain and top player Tim Abromaitis. The graduated senior is suspended for the season's first four games due to two exhibition games in which he participated during his redshirt-sophomore season (a self-reported NCAA violation from the 2008 pre-season).
"Maybe that's the benefit of having Abro out, that (Atkins) has to do that for us this week," Brey added.
For eight minutes of the second stanza the team's appeared evenly matched. Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned Brooks took over, scoring seven points, grabbing two boards in traffic, drawing a charge, and playing solid defense vs. Delta Devils F/C Paul Crosby, who proved a difficult matchup over the game's first 30 minutes.
"Joey was fabulous. Fabulous," Brey said. "He made big defensive plays and the charge he took was their last real run at us.
"When you throw yourself into your role of defending first, screening first and the shot is way down (the list) you usually make it because there's not as much of an emphasis on it," Brey continued. "And he took it at the right times; his shot was flowing…Some of his rebounds were like those physical rebounds we're going to need (in Big East play)."
"Hopefully we can really build on that. A couple of times when I took (Brooks) out I said, ‘You're a man. It's hard for me to take you out of the game.'"
Brooks finished with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two charges drawn in 29 minutes.
Senior co-captain Scott Martin returned from an ankle injury to score 15 points in 34 minutes. Jack Cooley added 10 rebounds despite early foul trouble and Jerian Grant, a redshirt-freshman in his first official game, added 11 points and five assists in 33 minutes.
Grant struggled mightily in the first exhibition game – apparently a case of nerves.
"I'm good to go now," Grant said post-game. "No problem."
Contested throughout, the matchup provided perfect preparation for Notre Dame's Monday night contest vs. a solid Detroit team (Horizon League, home of the Butler Bulldogs).
"I'm pleased that this group, still trying to find itself, had to get through some tough stuff to win a game," Brey said. "I thought we had a lot of different guys make plays for us when we had game pressure for us. I hope it gets us more ready to handle Monday night and a very good team."
Monday's game will be televised on ESPNU. Brey would like a full-house for what should be a wire-to-wire battle
"This is a Big East game," Brey said in comparison of Detroit to the league foes that await. "On Monday night, I really would hope that as much as we've delivered, that our fan base will look a little like the last time we played on a Monday here (Villanova in the season finale last March). We need the help of our sixth-man to beat Detroit."
Tip-off is set for 9 PM ET at the Purcell Pavilion.