Irish Slam South Florida

Notre Dame improved to 3-1 in Big East play with a wire-to-wire victory over South Florida.

South Bend, Ind. – Senior forward Scott Martin recorded a career-best rebound total for the second straight game and Notre Dame used a pair of late second-half runs to pull away from South Florida, 60-49 at the Purcell Pavilion.

Martin, who played well but shot poorly in a double-overtime upset win at Louisville on Saturday, ripped down 13 boards vs. the Bulls Tuesday night, giving him 33 rebounds in the last three contests. His 15-point performance marked his second consecutive double digit effort after previously scoring just four total points in matchups vs. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Aiding Martin's cause was continually improving center Jack Cooley. The Glenview, Ill., junior scored a game-high 16 points and managed seven rebounds. Included in the former total was a vicious slam (pictured) and subsequent foul vs. South Florida center Augustus Gilchrist to extend Notre Dame's lead to 17, 54-37 at the 4:10 mark of the second half.

Cooley punctuated the play with a scream directly in Gilchrist's grill, drawing a technical foul from the nearby official, but earning nothing but cheers from the sparse crowd and his smiling teammates.

"I told myself, ‘do not get a technical' but in my head I was thinking ‘if I keep staring at him, I'm going to get a technical,'" Cooley explained post-game before adding that the play marked the second post-technical dunk of his career, the first coming in a high school game vs. current teammate Alex Dragicevich's Glenbrook North squad. "It's like a Lunar Eclipse, or Haley's Comet" Cooley said of his apparently rare feat.

Redshirt-freshman guard Jerian Grant joined the pair as the only Irish players in double figures, scoring 14 in 39 minutes and adding four assists.

Gilchrist led the Bulls' charge with 13 points while Jawanza Poland chipped in 12 and Ron Anderson scored six with a team-high six offensive rebounds.

29 and counting

Notre Dame avoided a loss Tuesday in a dreaded "sandwich" situation: fresh off an upset at #10 Louisville with defending champion UConn on tap.

"This game was kind of in between two bigger games and it could get overlooked," Cooley admitted. "Lately in the Big East season, good teams have lost to (lesser) teams."

The Irish won despite shooting just 11 free throws, losing the rebounding battle, and missing all five of their second half three-point shots. But 16 assists on 24 baskets illustrated head coach Mike Brey's growing unit can win more than free-flowing shootouts when taking on all challengers South Bend.

"One of the things we talked about was playing well two games in a row in the Big East," Brey noted post-game. "Could we handle some success at Louisville and come back and do what you have to do to win a grinding league game? Our defense was outstanding tonight and then I thought our poise was great when they put some game pressure on us in the second half."

The Bulls drew to within three, 40-37 at the 9:17-minute mark but Notre Dame scored the next 15 points, the run punctuated by Cooley's aforementioned flush with a flourish.

"The interesting part of the game was they were kind of ‘Burning' us," Brey noted of the visitors in a reference to Notre Dame's occasional tactic to run game clock on its offensive possessions. "They were getting the (shot clock) down to single digits and they were methodical. I thought we did a great job (defending) at the end of the clock."

Notre Dame has won 29 straight at home, the fourth longest streak in the nation (behind Kentucky, Duke, and Ohio State and just ahead of North Carolina). They're 41-5 in their last 46 Big East home games, the best stretch in the conference over the last five-plus years, with 13 straight league wins entering Saturday's matchup vs. defending national champion Connecticut on tap.

The Irish have defeated the Huskies in three straight dating back to Senior Day 2010 on the Joyce Center Floor. Saturday's tip-off is set for 11:00 am on ESPN.

Notes and Numbers

Notre Dame's surprising 3-1 league start has been buoyed by strong performances from a trio of starters:

  • Martin broke out of an 0-18 three-point shooting slump, draining his first three-point attempt midway through the first half. His 26 points over the last two contests is the most since Martin tallied 35 combined in Games 4 and 5 during mid-November.

  • Martin's 25 rebounds over the last two contests ties the most by a Notre Dame player over the last two seasons.

  • Cooley's streak of double-digit rebounding efforts ended at three – the big man recorded 14, 11, and 10 boards, respectively in three league contests prior to tonight's seven-carom outing.

  • Grant has reached double figures in each of his first four Big East contests and has not been held under 14 points since an odd 0-fer effort in an easy win vs. Dartmouth in mid-December.

  • Notre Dame assisted on 10 of its 12 first half buckets. The visitors recorded just four assists during the 40-minute contest. The veteran Bulls shot a woeful 1 for 13 from long range on the evening, exacerbating their lack of polish in half-court sets.

  • The game featured just one tie (at 8-8) and Notre Dame never trailed in the contest. Top Stories