NOTRE DAME — Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was getting restless.
After a six-game marathon that spanned 16 days, Notre Dame faced nearly a full week off between its comeback road win over Pitt and its home tilt with Cincinnati.
“It helped, but I think it also had us chomping at the bit to compete,” Brey said. “We were a little wacky to compete, and I love that. I was wacky because we hadn’t played in six days. Our guys were a little like that, too.”
Notre Dame’s hunger for action was palpable in its 62-41 thrashing of Cincinnati on Sunday, Feb. 24. The Irish opened up a perfect 4-for-4 from the field after starting 1-for-19 against Pitt on Feb. 18.
As the Irish executed their recently adopted hockey-like mass substitutions and dominated the boards, Cincinnati floundered from the field, shooting 28 percent in the first half.
Notre Dame (22-6, 10-5 Big East) held the Bearcats to 15 points in the opening 20 minutes, a school record for fewest points allowed in the first half of a Big East game. The win was Notre Dame’s 10th in league play.
To measure Notre Dame’s defensive growth over the course of the season, simply compare its two meetings with Cincinnati (19-9. 7-8) this year.
Cincinnati’s lead scorers, Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, combined for 20 points in a 66-60 loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 7. On Sunday, Kilpatrick only had one bucket and Wright didn’t score at all.
The Bearcats sank nine 3-pointers against Notre Dame in January. On Sunday, they managed one.
In January, Notre Dame outrebounded Cincinnati 28-23. On Sunday, the Irish won the battle of the boards 43-27.
“I am so pleased and excited about our defensive and rebounding identity,” Brey said. “We have done a great job for two games in a row. I think we did a great job of staying in front of people that wanted to beat us off the dribble. We did a great job of keeping them to one-and-done.”
Notre Dame can attribute much of its defensive success to a steady rotation of four 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10 players. After Jack Cooley and Tom Knight scored Notre Dame’s first eight points, Zach Auguste and Garrick Sherman rotated in to keep the momentum going.
Auguste finished with a career-high nine rebounds while Knight scored 12 points.
Cooley, who finished with 11 points, couldn’t be happier with the rotation and the implementation of more “bigs” in the Irish lineup.
“I can’t think of a better time in the season to start clicking like that,” he said. “It’s great to see. It is really helpful not get my body beat to heck. They can draw some fouls and we can come back in and get the 1-and-1. It’s great to see that so many people are getting time.”
Jerian Grant led the Irish with 13 points. Teammate Eric Atkins scored 11, rounding out four Notre Dame players with double-digit points.