NEWARK, N.J. – Coming off a win over previously undefeated and then No. 1 Syracuse, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey wasn’t going to give his team a pass against Seton Hall.
Good teams follow big wins with wins, Brey told the Irish the past couple of days, and his team more than listened.
Jack Cooley had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Notre Dame turned in its best defensive effort of the season in limiting Seton Hall to its lowest point total since 2005 in a 55-42 Big East victory Wednesday night.
“I am really proud of my team because most groups after what we did Saturday would not be as focused or almost would even get a free pass if they lost here, because our fans are still celebrating,” Brey said. “For our group to come here and win this I think really shows some signs that maybe we got something developing that is kind of special. So I am very proud of our group.”
The Irish (13-8, 5-3) never let up on the defensive end in limiting the Pirates (15-5, 4-4) to their lowest point total since losing 93-40 to Duke on Nov. 16, 2005.
Seton Hall was limited to 26.3 percent shooting from the field, making 15 of 57, including 2 of 14 from long range.
“I told them if you get this one, everyone will look around and say ’Uh-oh, you’re in the middle of this thing,”’ Brey said, noting his team now can handle dry spells on the offensive end by playing defense, a definite sign that the Irish have matured since November
Cooley, whom Brey called the most improved player in the league, challenged Seton Hall center Herb Pope all night, holding him to five points on 2-of-16 shooting.
“This win was huge,” Cooley said. “Coach kept saying that if we would have lost, everyone would have said: ’They beat Syracuse and let this one drop.’ We didn’t want that. We wanted to prove that we are a good team and we can handle our business against good teams.”
Jerian Grant had 15 points and Eric Atkins 14 as the Irish handed Seton Hall its third straight loss overall and first at home in 11 games this season.
Jordan Theodore, who led Seton Hall with 11 points, was upset after the game, noting it was difficult hearing the fans at the Prudential Center booing and leaving the arena early.
“It was embarrassing for me,” Theodore said. “It was really embarrassing because it hasn’t happened in my four years here. It was really embarrassing. After the game I came in here and had a talk with the guys. I am a senior. I have nine games left in my career here and I don’t want to go out like this.”
Fuquan Edwin had 12 rebounds for the Pirates, who are starting a four-game stretch that will include games with Louisville, Marquette, UConn and Rutgers.
“I’ve said all year, we’re only as good as those two guys (Theodore and Pope) play,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said. “They’ve been playing very well for most of the year, but they haven’t played very well the last couple of games. You better have a short memory in this conference. If you don’t it makes for a long year.”
Leading 19-18 after a sloppily played first half, Notre Dame opened the second half with a 19-7 spurt to take a 38-25 edge.
Atkins and Cooley each hit two free throws to start things and Alex Dragicevich and Grant hit consecutive three-pointers. Cooley later added a basket inside, and a free throw, Scott Martin made three-pointers and Dragicevich converted a three-point play to close out the run.
The Irish were never threatened the rest of the way.
Dragicevich had all nine of his points in the final 20 minutes, while Grant had 13 of his 15.
If there was anything that could be said about the first half that was positive, it was the teams played good defense.
The teams hit 13 field goals together while shooting a combined 9 of 19 from the free-throw line.
“I appreciate you all not leaving at halftime,” Brey said shortly after his press conference started. “It put a damper on things, but the ugliness of the game was good for us because we’ve won some ugly ones before.”
Nobody was off more than Pope. He was 1 of 12 from the field with most of the misses coming on contested shots from within 5 feet of the basket.
The 19 first-half point by Notre Dame were a season-low, one less than it had in a loss to Indiana. The Pirates 18 first-half points weren’t a season low. They were limited to 15 by Syracuse in a 26-point loss in late December.