Notre Dame's 17-point evisceration of No. 15 Marquette – previously winners of seven straight, no less – included 28 field goalsl 22 of them assisted by a teammate.
That's the brand of basketball Mike Brey's squad plays these days. It's unique, it's taxing for the opponent, and it's a joy to watch.
"I continue to be very, very proud of the team I work with," said head coach Mike Brey of his team's 76-59 win over its longest-tenured foe. "I thought today we took another step, and kind of played like men. We were very cruel competitors when we had a chance to put it away. I'm thrilled to see that from this group."
Notre Dame hit on 50 percent of its 56 field goal attempts, but it was an 11 for 23 effort from beyond the arc that proved too much to overcome for one of the nation's best perimeter defenses.
"If you study statistically what we've done up to this point," began Marquette head coach Buzz Williams of his teams' generally stout defensive effort. "I don't think any team has made eleven 3s…I don't know if that's ever happened since I've been here. But again, it was open shots, but those open shots were the result of penetration."
Saturday afternoon, just as it has in five of its last six outings vs. ranked foes this winter, Notre Dame flipped the script, serving as the aggressor and better defensive team.
"I thought the defensive job that Scott Martin did on (Jae) Crowder, and Jerian Grant did on (Darius-Johnson) Odom, was fabulous. They were never able to explode," Brey offered. "Our overall defense was good and our rebounding was excellent."
The aforementioned Golden Eagles pair entered the game scoring a combined 35 points per contest...it was held to four and 12 points respectively by the Martin/Grant combo. Crowder hit just 2 of 7 shots in 35 minutes while Odom was pressured into 12 points and three turnovers vs. a mere two assists as the visitor's chief ball-handler.
The Irish were led by Connaughton's 23 points; not a career high, he set that with 24 in a nondescript beating of Sam Houston State in November, but doubtless the best collegiate effort to date for the true freshman.
"I think it was a career-high in every way for him," said Williams of the Irish swingman. "Minutes (37), points (23), assists (3), rebounds (11), steals (1), blocks (2); he played really good. That's a heck of a line right there."
Sophomore co-captain Eric Atkins added 18 points with five assists while Grant scored 12 and Martin 11. Atkins, Grant, and Martin played an aggregate 118 of 120 game minutes.
No Longer a SurpriseTwo weeks ago, Brey's Irish were 3-1 in league play. He was thrilled and somewhat stunned. After four straight wins, the Irish are 7-3 in league play and a half-game out of second place in the Big East. They've knocked out five of the last six ranked foes they've faced; two of the last three in blowout fashion.
"I told them in one of the last media timeouts, ‘I feel like I'm coaching men today.' That had the look of more than one 5th-year senior on the court today," said Brey in reference to his unit that boasts the 5th-year Martin plus two newcomers, two sophomores, and a junior among its top seven.
Notre Dame has won at Louisville and Connecticut. They've beaten the nation's former #1 (current #4) team. They've won seven league games vs. Big East foes that have since won a combined 41 conference games. There might not be a better resume for an unranked team across the country than that of the squad in South Bend.
Most believed the Irish were NIT bound. Brey admitted today he felt the same, though he never let his team know his long-term view of a season that looked lost in late-December.
"I think our guys are very focused on showing up on Selection Sunday," Brey offered. "God Bless them they should be because they've put us in this position with their focus and business-like approach to go get it."
Notre Dame was a borderline bad team in late November. It was anything but impressive through the end of its non-conference slate. Barely six weeks later, the Irish appear capable of beating anyone on a given day.
"The one thing they're going to get from me," he continued, "Is that we're just going for it. I am the loosest coach in America. I am loose, baby. They aren't going to get tight from being around me.
"That was a cruel way of getting it done today. We were winning games (previously), but that was another step forward in terms of our mentality and our maturity."
2012 was billed as a rebuilding year for Brey and his undermanned Irish nine.
It's time to re-assess.