For the second road game in a row Mike Brey abandoned his signature mock turtleneck and went with a button down shirt (but of course, no tie) and with victories over Jim Boheim and Bob Huggins on their respective home floors, his new - and might I add, more refined - look on the road might just be here to stay.
Notre Dame (16-8, 8-3) walked into West Virginia (16-9, 6-6) Wednesday night and controlled the pace of the game for the first 35 minutes, then rallied around three consecutive three point buckets to survive the late Mountaineers rally.
More on the 5th straight Notre Dame win after the jump.
Perhaps it was the late tip off time (9:00pm) but both teams started off slow as brick came after brick and the score at the first media timeout - which came late at the 13:28 mark - WVU was ahead 5-4. Jack Cooley, who was assigned with the task of muscling against big man Deniz Kilicli won the battle early scoring 6 of the first 8 Irish points, getting his hands on rebound after rebound, and limiting his Turkish counterpart on the defensive end.
Cooley was magnificent all night posting 21 points (on 7/9 FG and 7/10 FT), 12 rebounds and limiting West Virginia's offensive options with his outstanding defensive effort. His frontcourt partner Scott Martin* also had a good night putting up 12 points (on 5/7 shooting, including 2/3 from 3- both 3's came at most opportune times 1. as time expired in the first half 2. to seal the game with 58 seconds left) and limiting leading Big East player of the year candidate Kevin Jones to just 6/16 shooting from the field. It was also good to see Mike Broghammer, who has seen just 17 total minutes in conference play thus far, getting called into action early to join in on the battle in the paint.
*If you've read my recaps all season long you probably know that I've been very hard on the 5th year senior captain. I would like to take this time to apologize and also thank him for finally showing up this season. Since the Louisville game he's been averaging 11 points, 7 rebounds on 46% shooting and continued the stellar team defense. This week both Tim Prister and Brian Hamilton have released stories about how both Martin and Tim Abromaitis will be applying for a 6th year and while the chances remain slim for Abro (he already has two degrees which the NCAA like to put weight on), if Martin promises to play like he has the last 9 games (and not the first 15), then I wish he gets year 6.
Perhaps the most simultaneously discouraging and encouraging sign was the play of the young backcourt. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins combined for just 4 assists and 19 points on 7/26 shooting but each showed smarts and bravado when most needed.
Atkins struggled with offensive fouls and tough shooting all night, but there was a moment with 5:16 to go in the first half where he got a steal and instead of charging ahead for a quick fastbreak layup, he used a hesitation move to slow down at the half court then just as the WVU defense thought they were getting set, Atkins used his burst to cut through the unsettled defense and put in a smooth finger roll.
Grant struggled on defense most of the night, missing assignments and he also missed 13 of his 17 field goal attempts, but Grant is nothing if not confident and he hit two swag-alicious 3's - one early and one late - and never hesitated throughout the game.
The road team truly earned this victory. While the Irish controlled the game for the first 32-35 minutes, a few quick runs put WVU up 43-40 with 4 minutes to go. The crowd was back and jumping and the comeback seemed complete, but the will to win and the mental toughness of this squad was on full display. Brey has ridden his top 6 guys hard and all of them, particularly the young backcourt was clearly fatigued but as a unit they refused to relent and did not abandon their coach's trust. Because of that the Irish now sit at 8-3 in the Big East all alone at third and just half a game behind second place Marquette. There's also a strong possibility that they will be favored in 6 of their last 7 games - and yes, I can't believe I just wrote that.
The Irish play host to DePaul on Saturday. Tip off is scheduled for noon.