Irish advance to Big East quarters
NEW YORK (AP)
Notre Dame will get at least one more day at the Big East tournament, something the Fighting Irish have gotten used to.
Pat Connaughton scored a season-high 21 points and led Notre Dame's impressive show from 3-point range as the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish beat Rutgers 69-61 on Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East tournament.
Tom Knight had a career-high 18 points for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-8), which will face third-seeded and 12th-ranked Marquette in the quarterfinals Thursday night.
The Irish have reached the semifinals in each of the last three years but haven't been able to get that first tournament title — and this is the Fighting Irish's last chance since they are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
"We expect to be here a while, no question," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We love New York City. I'll take that over South Bend for a while, so we're going to stay."
It appeared that it would be an easy second-round win for the Irish, who led by 14 points at halftime and then were able — with Connaughton's shooting the key — to hold off several runs by the Scarlet Knights.
"We were really mature and poised, and in the second half they were coming at us," Brey said. "We made great plays out of timeouts. We defended. We had putbacks. We had great rebounds. We made big free throws. We made big 3s tonight."
Connaughton finished 6 of 8 from 3-point range as Notre Dame, which led the Big East in 3-point percentage (36.9), was 10 of 17 from beyond the arc (58.8 percent).
"The chemistry on this team, everybody likes each other and picks each other up," Connaughton said. "That's helped me keep the confidence and keep shooting. That's something they've been on me to do."
Senior forward Austin Johnson had a career-high 18 points for the Scarlet Knights (15-16), who were able to cut into Notre Dame's lead several times in the second half only to see Connaughton find a way to start the Irish offense in a hurry.
Myles Mack had 18 points for Rutgers, which was 4 of 15 from 3-point range and 5 of 11 at the free-throw line. The Irish were 15 of 19 from the free-throw line.
Rutgers coach Mike Rice was upset with the way the Scarlet Knights played in the first half.
"I just questioned their heart. You know the things you do in coaching. Question their pride," Rice said of his halftime talk. "Austin spoke up, and I think Jerome (Seagears) spoke up. And, again, they responded. Pressed and did some things to pick up the level of intensity and energy, but, again, it still wasn't enough because, when it got close, when it got to two possessions."
Notre Dame, which came into the tournament having lost two of three, led 33-19 at halftime but the Scarlet Knights opened the second half on a 7-0 run. Jerian Grant and Connaughton both hit 3s to open the lead back to 11.
Rutgers got within 41-36 with 13:23 to play only to see Connaughton hit a 3 that started a 6-0 run. He did it again with just less than nine minutes to play when he buried a 3 just after Rutgers had gotten within 49-43.
Rutgers beat DePaul 76-57 in the opening round Tuesday and the Scarlet Knights were looking to win a second game in the tournament for the first time since 1998. Rutgers is leaving for the Big Ten after the 2013-14 season.
Wally Judge led the Scarlet Knights in the win over DePaul by tying a Big East tournament record by going 9 for 9 from the field and finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. It was a lot different against Notre Dame for Judge, who was 1 for 6 from the field and had two points and one rebound.
"He just let Cooley and Knight and all of those guys knock him off balance, and he just didn't shoot a balanced shot," Rice said. "The second half, he had two or three really good plays. One of them went in, the other two didn't. That's what we saw the other night against DePaul. He wasn't letting the defense take him. They were knocking him off post and knocking him out of position. You can't do that as a defensive player."
Knight was playing the part of the inside presence usually taken care of by all-Big East forward Jack Cooley.
Knight had 10 points and four rebounds in leading the Irish to the 14-point halftime lead. Knight was 5 of 10 from the field while Cooley, who was second in the conference at 58.2 percent, was just 1 of 6.
Cooley finished with two points but he and Knight both had nine rebounds.
"I came out for the games wanting to give energy where the team needed. If it was rebounds or scoring, that's what I was going to try to do, and today was scoring," Knight said. "I'm going to try to work off of that, just hit the ground running every game."
Poor shooting was a problem for the entire Rutgers team in the first half except Kadeem Jack, who was 4 of 5 from the field. The rest of the Scarlet Knights were 4 of 22 from the field including making just one of eight from beyond the arc.