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Notre Dame dominates offensive boards in crucial moments

When looking at the box score of Notre Dame’s win over Marquette on Thursday night, one should assume the Fighting Irish didn’t win the game through rebounding. Marquette grabbed 16 offensive rebounds off 29 of their misses from the field, and Notre Dame had just 12 on 36 misses.

But when Notre Dame needed to make a run in the second half, rebounding made all the difference  Its victory was propelled by key offensive rebounds, which the Fighting Irish subsequently turned into points.

With 6:33 left in the second half, the game was tied at 50. That was when Garrick Sherman got an offensive rebound. The redshirt junior forward wasn’t boxed out, and tipped home his own miss.

After that, Jack Cooley took over. The All-Big East forward dominated Marquette on the offensive glass and was the driving force behind Notre Dame taking control of the game. Coach Buzz Williams says it didn’t matter which of his big men – Chris Otule or Davante Gardner – was on the court at this point. Both weren’t able to keep Notre Dame off the offensive glass.

“(Cooley) 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.”

Cooley’s dominance started with 5:36 remaining. Jerian Grant missed a lay-up, Cooley grabbed the offensive rebound, and scored a lay-up eight seconds later. The senior forward got his defender, Gardner, out of position on the rebound.

Then, Cooley rebounded a missed jumper by Sherman by getting in a superior position to Gardner. He then fed Grant, who was fouled and converted two free throws with 4:07 left.

To complete his offensive rebounding run, Cooley was able to get to a missed three-pointer by Grant. After getting position on Gardner again, Cooley found Pat Connaughton on the wing while falling out-of-bounds. Connaughton hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night.

“You need to keep them off the glass,” point guard Junior Cadougan said. “At the end they got a couple open shots, open lay-ups. In order to beat them you have to limit their offensive rebounds and their open three-pointers, and after the second-to-last media timeout we didn’t do that.”

With 3:31 left, Notre Dame was ahead 59-52 courtesy of a 9-2 run during which they scored all their points off those four offensive rebounds. Cooley actually got another offensive board with 10:54 left off a Connaughton miss on a three, which he turned into a lay-up.

The Fighting Irish scored 11 points off their final five offensive rebounds of the game. Marquette did enough to make them miss on offense, but the Golden Eagles didn’t ensure that was their only chance to score.

Marquette was ahead 19-11 with 8:59 in the first half remaining when Otule picked up his second foul of the game. Gardner already had two of his own at that point.

When the Golden Eagles were playing without a big man, Notre Dame’s big men got confidence and put the Fighting Irish in control.

In the remaining 8:59 of the half, Notre Dame outscored Marquette 18-6. The Fighting Irish got 12 of their points from their interior trio of Cooley, Tom Knight, and Sherman.

Forward Jamil Wilson was one of the Golden Eagles who had to play against those big men. At 6-foot-7, Wilson isn’t used to playing against players as capable as Cooley, Knight, or Sherman down low.

“Those guys, Cooley and Knight and Sherman, are natural big men. Us versatile guys matching up with them is tough,” Wilson said. “They got some easy buckets, and screen coverage wasn’t great at times. That’s where they had a shift in momentum going into halftime. That’s where they started to gain more confidence.”

Not only is the trio used to playing down low, but they know how to run an effective pick-and-roll. After they set a screen, the ball-handler can score, as can Notre Dame’s big men who are quickly rolling to the basket. Even if Marquette got those two right, there was someone waiting on the perimeter to bury a shot.

“That’s the thing. You have to guard the ball screens with (Eric) Atkins and Grant, and it puts you in rotation because Cooley, Knight, Sherman, and Zach (Auguste) are all rolling,” Williams said. “So now your guards have to absorb, and then Connaughton is standing out there waiting on somebody to pass him the ball.”

Notre Dame beat Marquette because they started doing what they do well: dominate the offensive boards and hit shots from the perimeter. The two are related, and are why the Fighting Irish are playing Louisville on Friday night and the Golden Eagles are not.

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