ND rides Cooley, Atkins to win

Notre Dame returned home and enjoyed a familiar result, winning for the 25th straight time on the Joyce Center floor.

South Bend – Neither team led by more than six points through the game's first 37 minutes and the bulk of the second half was played within a four-point margin, but Notre Dame finally subdued the Black Bears of Maine Thursday night, 87-78 at the Purcell Pavilion.

Absent co-captain Scott Martin (concussion) in the second half, Jack Cooley led the Irish charge, scoring 18 of his 22 points after the break and offered a dominant effort on the boards with 14 caroms in 27 minutes. Cooley came off the bench after missing extensive practice time and the Maryland game last Sunday due to illness.

"I thought our three big guys rotating through gave us great stuff," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of the Cooley/Tom Knight/Mike Broghammer center trio. "Jack was fabulous, man. He gave us the heart and soul. Got loose balls for us. Did all the tough stuff."

Frustrated by his recent illness and sub par play previous to it, Cooley was relieved and resolute, post-game.

"I figured enough was enough. I had to go out there and play my hardest no matter what was going on. I made some strides tonight."

Sophomore point guard Eric Atkins led the Irish with 26 points – 13 in both halves – but no shot was bigger than a pull-up three-pointer at the 3:45 mark that extended Notre Dame's lead to six, 78-72.

"The defender went under the screen and I didn't think twice about it, I just let it go," Atkins offered of the game's key bucket.

"Cooley and Atkins wouldn't let us lose, and that was nice to see." Brey added.

After the Black Bears tied the score at 67 with just over 6:30 remaining, the Atkins/Cooley pair starred in a 13-5 Irish run to extend the lead to a comfortable eight points, 80-72 at the 3:05 mark. Cooley scored six of the points while Atkins added five plus an assist.

Thereafter sophomore guard Jerian Grant overcame an uncharacteristically quiet performance (just three attempts in 23 minutes), to put the nail in the coffin, draining a deep wing three at the 1:38 mark to extend Notre Dame's lead to 11, 83-72.

"That was a big shot by him," Atkins said of Grant's calling card clutch jumper. "I think it was big just because of the night he was having, getting his confidence back going into Saturday."

Maine was led by game-high scorer Gerald McLemore who poured in 27 points on 11 of 16 shooting. His backcourt mate Justin Edwards scored 20 in support. Alasdair Fraser scored all 17 of his points in the first half. After hitting 8 of 11 shots in the opening stanza, Fraser missed both of his second half offerings.

"They're very talented offensively," Brey said of the perimeter-oriented Black Bears. "We were worried about giving up 3s so we gave up some 2s. I felt we could swallow that a little bit."

Maine hit 6 of 16 shots from beyond the arc and just two of eight in the second stanza.

"McLemore is a great shooter," Atkins offered. "He can go anywhere in the country (and play)."

Sophomore Alex Dragicevich added 14 points for Brey's Irish in 31 minutes. Notre Dame led 44-41 at the break after a Cooley put-back beat the halftime buzzer.

"To come back out at the end of the first half and get that rebound (and bucket), that really boosted my confidence a lot," Cooley said of a four-point first half.

The Irish return to the Joyce Center floor Saturday to take on Dartmouth (2-5). Tip-off is set for 7:30 on ESPN3. Notre Dame will have a week away from competition during the University's final exams before traveling to Indianapolis to battle state-rival Indiana in the first annual Crossroads Classic to be played at Conseco Fieldhouse.

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