Just one game after putting up 2 points and 0 rebounds at Georgetown, Notre Dame big man Jack Cooley posted a dominating performance scoring 27 points and pulling down 17 boards against the hapless Providence frontline. It was senior night and likely the last time Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis will don the Notre Dame jersey at the Purcell, and though the night ended in a win, when one considers the lead that the home team had at one point (ND was up 60-35 with 9:01 to go) the taste of victory was not quite as sweet as it could have been.
Regardless, the Irish secured a double-bye in the Big East tournament (#3 seed) and finished the regular season 21-10 (13-5) a record far above what most expected. More on the regular season finale and Irish win after the jump.
The final game of the season at Purcell Pavilion also played the role of both Senior and Adrian Dantley Night so Tim Abromaitis was allowed to dress in warm ups and the students were given free Dantley t-shirts. Both teams played it close in the first half as the Irish held a 3 point advantage going into the locker rooms 31-28.
Cooley singlehandedly kept the Irish going early posting 21 points and 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes of the game as the home team's perimeter players didn't look as warmed up as their big man. But things turn around for the Irish shooters after the intermission as they hit 5/10 from beyond the arc in the second half and jumped to a 60-35 lead with 9 minutes to go.
Coach Brey then proceeded to take Cooley and Martin out of the game but Providence used their athleticism to create transition bucket after bucket to chip the Irish lead away. Matter of fact, the Friars outscored the Irish 34-15 in the last 9 minutes of the game, something that should keep Mike Brey up tonight and give his squad something to work on in the days leading up to the tournament.
Ultimately, this team may be who we thought they were. They're solid defensively but there is a lack of quality (and coach's trust) depth and they struggle against teams that are athletic. Guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are great in the clutch but both have had multiple bad shooting games and still need to improve their consistency on a nightly basis. Any team that wins 9 in a row in the Big East is a good, if not great, team. And that is the question that this squad will have to answer for themselves as they walk into the mecca of basketball next week for their conference tournament. Are they just a good team that overachieved a little bit? Or are they indeed a special team and story that no one saw coming?
Even if this team goes one and out in both the Big East and the Big Dance, you won't find many Irish fans complaining about this season. It felt magical at times. One just hopes the magic is still there next week and beyond.