SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame is hoping its stellar defense and rebounding can lead it to a Big East title.
The 25th-ranked Irish once again dominated on the boards and held their opponent to a low shooting percentage in a 62-41 win Sunday over Cincinnati.
I thought we did a great job staying in front of people who wanted to beat us off the dribble, and we did a great job keeping it to one-and-done, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. Maybe we’re finding our identity here on that defensive end of the floor and rebounding the basketball.
Notre Dame’s conference title hopes looked slim a month ago when team captain Scott Martin went out with a knee injury. But in his absence the team has gone 7-2, trailing conference leader Georgetown by two games, with tough road games remaining against Marquette and Louisville, both of whom are tied for second place.
We’re in the middle of this thing, and let’s keep going, Brey said.
The Irish (22-6, 10-5) had four players score in double figures. Jerian Grant led them with 13 points, followed by Tom Knight with 12, and Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins with 11.
Grant shot just 2-of-9 from the field but was perfect from the free-throw line, hitting a season-high nine from the stripe.
Unlike their last game against Pittsburgh, when they managed only one field goal over the first 9 minutes, the Irish started hot, hitting their first four attempts. Cincinnati, by contrast, converted just 3 of their first 15 shots, and finished the first half shooting 7of 25, or 28 percent.
The Bearcats (19-9, 7-8) weren’t much more accurate in the second half, finishing the game at 32 percent shooting.
On Sunday Pat Connaughton’s three from the corner, falling through the net just 2 seconds before the first-half buzzer, gave the Irish a 29-15 lead at the break.
Notre Dame scored the first five points of the second half, off a fastbreak layup by Atkins and a three by the point guard, stretching their lead to 19, the largest of the game up to that point. That prompted another timeout by Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin Coming out of the timeout, they reeled off a 9-0 run over a nearly four-minute span.
But the Irish regained control with a three by freshman Cameron Biedscheid, launching into a 11-4 run punctuated by a two-handed flush by Cooley, and built their lead back to 18 at 50-32.
JaQuon Parker led Cincinnati with 12 points.