Pat Connaughton and Tom Knight were hot and Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant were not as the Notre Dame basketball team held off a scrappy Rutgers team Wednesday night in second round play of the Big East Tournament.
Connaughton scored a game-high 21 points and Knight added 18 more to help the Irish (24-8) advance to a Thursday night quarterfinal matchup against Marquette. Connaughton was nearly lights-out from three-point range. The sophomore connected on 6-of-8 long range shots to help the Irish go 10-for-17 (58%) on threes in the victory over Rutgers (15-16) at Madison Square Garden.
Knight had a big game himself. The 6'10 forward had career-highs in both points and rebounds with 18 and nine, respectively. He was 6-for-14 from the field. Knight led all scorers with 10 points at halftime.
Notre Dame needed the efforts of the duo. Cooley and Grant combined to score 27 points a game entering the night, but they combined for just 13 in the eight point win. Cooley finished with just two points on 1-for-6 shooting. All six of his shots were in the first half.
The Irish got off to a 7-1 lead. Rutgers made it 9-7, but the Irish rattled-off nine straight points to take an 11-point advantage. Notre Dame started out 7-for-19 (41%) from the field while holding Rutgers to 4-for-17 (23%) shooting over the game's first 13 minutes.
Notre Dame hit 3-of-4 three-pointers in that stretch, while the Scarlet Knights made just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.
ND went up by 16 at the 2:45 mark. A layup just before the halftime buzzer gave the Irish a 33-19 lead heading into the locker room. The Scarlet Knights turned that into a 9-0 run as they cut their deficit to 33-28 two minutes into the second half.
A three-pointer from Grant ended the run with 16:35 to play. Grant, who was scoreless in the first half before finishing with eight points in the Louisville game, was scoreless in the first half again against Rutgers. Grant had missed his first five treys prior to the connection. Pat Connaughton hit from long range on Notre Dame's next possession to go back up by 11.
Grant finished the game 3-for-11 after shooting 2-for-12 in Saturday's Louisville loss.
Wally Judge, who was coming off a career-high 20 point effort Tuesday night against DePaul, had nowhere near that production against Notre Dame. Judge was held to just two points on 1-for-6 shooting, while picking up four fouls. He missed his first six shots before scoring his first points with 6:40 to play.
Austin Johnson had just three points at halftime, but the Rutgers forward's 18 points set a new career-high. His previous best was 16 points against Providence in 2011.
Notre Dame improves to 10-17 at the Big East Tournament. Nine of those wins have come under head coach Mike Brey. A win Thursday night would make Notre Dame the only team to advance to the Big East Tournament semifinals in each of the last five seasons. The Irish are already the only team to advance to the tournament semis in each of the last three seasons. The Irish have now won at least one game at the Big East Tournament for five straight years.
The last time the Irish were the No. 6 seed, as they are this year, was 2005. They fell to Rutgers in the first round that season.