Pat Connaughton scored 18 points on six three-pointers and Jerian Grant added 17 points to lead No. 24 Notre Dame to a 73-65 win over No. 12 Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals Big East Championships.
Jamil Wilson scored 16 for the Golden Eagles in a losing effort, while Junior Cadougan added 14, and Vander Blue 12.
Connaughton, who scored a career-high 24 points in a win over Marquette last season, was 6 of 10 from beyond the arc, and scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half.
Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said Connaughton was consistently open on Thursday night, and it was the movement of Notre Dame’s big men in pick-and-roll situations was the main reason. While Notre Dame’s starting big men – Tom Knight and Jack Cooley – combined for just 14 points, they were the reason that Connaughton was able to be so effective.
“Somebody else created a shot for him,” Williams said. “That means you were in rotation, and he was standing there.”
The Golden Eagles started out on the front foot in a big way, though. Junior Cadougan hit a three-pointer on Marquette’s first possession, which was followed by an offensive rebound and lay-up by Trent Lockett. Cadougan hit another jumper from the right elbow, and Mike Brey had to call a timeout with 18:03 left and his team down 7-0.
Up 11-4, Marquette went on another run. Davante Gardner fed Cadougan on the baseline for a lay-up, and then Steve Taylor Jr. grabbed an offensive rebound and subsequently scored. After a jumper by Todd Mayo on the left wing, Brey called another timeout, down 17-4 with 11:06 left in the first.
Notre Dame climbed back into the game though. After a hook shot by Jack Cooley, the Fighting Irish were only down 21-14. During the mini-run by Notre Dame, Marquette’s two big men, Chris Otule and Gardner, both picked up two fouls.
Pat Connaughton’s hit a three-pointer with 7:01 remaining, and then Jerian Grant made two free throws and Garrick Sherman made a lay-up. Marquette’s lead was down to one at 22-21 with five minutes left in the half. Marquette went just over four minutes without scoring before Gardner made one of two free throws with 3:48 left in the first half.
Sherman then tied the game at 23 with a nifty move for a lay-up, which he followed up with a right hook shot to give the Irish a 25-23 lead with 2:49 to play.
The Fighting Irish finished off their hot run with a jumper by Tom Knight with 1:32 left. Their lead was 29-25, which was the halftime score.
While the Golden Eagles shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, they also committed 11 turnovers. Williams said his team can’t be turning the ball over at a rate like that and win games.
“Our turnover rate was too high. Our points per possession were much better in the second half just because we didn’t turn it over as much,” Williams said. “But we have to learn from it.
Marquette started the second half as they did the first: hot. Juan Anderson hit a jumper then fed Otule for an easy dunk, and the game was tied at 29 with 17:57 remaining. Cadougan put Marquette ahead with a lay-up after a spin move, but Grant scored a jumper and was fouled, putting Notre Dame in front 37-36.
With 10:27 remaining, Vander Blue scored a lay-up and was fouled, making the free throw to give Marquette the lead 46-44. Blue followed that up with a runner cutting in from the left wing, and extended the lead to four. Sherman converted an and-one for Notre Dame, though, with 8:28 left. He finished with 13 points.
Grant hit a three-pointer with 7:15 remaining to put the Irish ahead again, but Gardner hit two free throws to tie it up for the Golden Eagles at 50. Sherman restored Notre Dame’s lead at 52-50, though with 6:33 left. A minute later Cooley extended the lead to four with a put back lay-up.
Notre Dame’s lead became seven with three-and-a-half minutes left. Grant missed a three-pointer, but Cooley grabbed his fourth offensive rebound of the game, and found Connaughton on the wing for his fifth three-pointer. After a jumper by Jamil Wilson cut the lead to five, Eric Atkins scored a lay-up off a pass from Grant. Atkins was fouled, made the free throw, and put Notre Dame up 62-54 with 2:59 left.
Cooley’s four offensive rebounds all came in the second half. The Fighting Irish made those into nine points. Gardner tried his luck down low but didn’t have success keeping them off the offensive boards, and then Otule entered the game but couldn’t stop them either.
“He whipped Chris. Then I went to Davante, and he whipped Davante,” Williams said. “We were trying to tag team him, and he just kept knocking us out.”
The Golden Eagles showed one sign of life after that, though. Wilson hit a three-pointer nine seconds after Atkins basket. Unfortunately, Connaughton hit another three-pointer to restore Notre Dame’s lead to eight.
Marquette was within six, but Wilson missed a jumper in the lane with 1:18 left, and the Golden Eagles were resigned to their fate. It was Notre Dame that would be playing Louisville on Friday night in the semifinals of the Big East Championships at Madison Square Garden.