Purcell Pavilion was rocking, the student section did a flash mob (see below), Tory Jackson was stealing words from me on Twitter, and at least for one afternoon, Pat Connaughton looked like a Naismith Award winner as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish downed yet another ranked team, this time the #15 Marquette Golden Eagles
Now, a team that looked like it would win less than 4 games in the league back in December stands 7-3 in the Big East just about halfway through conference play.
Why yes, you can certainly say that I am pleased. More on the big home win after the jump
So just how good was Pat Connaughton? How about 23 points (on 9/12 shooting including 5/8 from beyond the arc), 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal to go along with countless possession saving plays? Kevin Harlan and Greg Anthony gushed about the freshman from Massachusetts all afternoon long, and he received a ton of help from the rest of the starting crew. Eric Atkins dropped 18 to go along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists, Scott Martin had 11 points (including a dagger fadeaway as the shot clock expired to put ND up by 11 with 7 minutes to go), 5 boards and 4 dimes, despite some major foul trouble Jack Cooley posted 8 and 8 with 2 blocks and 2 steals and Jerian Grant put up 12 points (including one swag-alicious fade away heat check 3 pointer at the 18:20 mark of the 2nd half) and dropped 8 dimes.
"I don't think anybody passes it better than us in the country" head coach Mike Brey said in his post game presser, and the Irish's 28 field goals on 22 assists fully backed up Brey's bold claim.
Under the leadership of sophomore captain Eric Atkins, Notre Dame continued to show a maturity and confidence beyond its years. While Connaughton's timely corner 3's and hustle powered the home team for most of the game, midway through the second half, it was Atkins who sealed the permanent lead. Atkins scored 5 straight points from the 16:16 mark to the 15:12 mark, then converted a tough 3 points-the-old-fashioned-way with 11:30 to go. He essentially sealed the win by finding his roommate - Grant - on a breakaway lay-in on the very next possession to put the Irish up 50-42.
While the killer efficient offensive output - 50% FG, 48% 3pt FG (11 3's) 82% FT - was a welcome sight, this team has hung its hat on defense all season long - something Mike Brey's teams have never done in the past - and they did just that once again Saturday afternoon.
Marquette came into the game on a 7 game win streak, one that was powered by fastbreak points and outstanding 3 point shooting. The Irish clipped the Golden Eagle's wings by limiting them to just 4 fastbreak points and 2/13 shooting from beyond the arc. Scott Martin did a particularly stellar job on Jae Crowder who came into the game as one of the best players in the conference (17 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 rpg, 1 bpg over 2 spg) but left with just 4 points on 2/7 shooting.
The Irish now have 8 games remaining in conference play, 4 at home and 4 on the road. Going .500 in those remaining games should give Notre Dame a NCAA berth, but with the way this team is playing right now, saying that they'll go just .500 seems utterly disrespectful. For that, I apologize.
Notre Dame will travel to West Virginia this Wednesday to take on the Bob Huggins' Mountaineers squad. Tip off is scheduled for 9pm.