CINCINNATI – Pass, pass, pass, pass. Then, pass again before finding and making a wide-open shot. No. 17 Notre Dame got everyone involved in extending its notable winning streak.
Jerian Grant scored 19 points and the Irish patiently worked for open shots that set up a 66-60 victory Monday night over No. 21 Cincinnati, their 12th straight win.
Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 Big East) is on its best winning streak since it also won 12 in a row in 2006-07. The 14-1 mark is the best start during coach Mike Brey’s 13 seasons.
This time, he’s got an experienced roster that loves to share. Notre Dame is among the national leaders with 19 assists per game.
That’s been our program, Brey said. There’s a culture of passing the ball here. We recruit basketball IQ guys, and I think there’s a lot of trust that we’re going to keep moving that thing. That’s why we have great balance.
We can move it until we get the right guy to take the shot. And we enjoy moving it. Tonight we had some amazing possessions where we got guys out of position.
The Irish did it their way, spreading out a defense that has been Cincinnati’s strength. Notre Dame shot 50 percent from the field and went 9 of 16 behind the arc.
The Irish lead the Big East and rank fifth nationally shooting 59.8 percent from the field. When Cincinnati (13-3, 1-2) clamped down on the perimeter, 6-foot-9 forward Jack Cooley got openings inside. He finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Our guards were fabulous tonight, Brey said. I think we have the best backcourt in the country, frankly, and they played like it tonight on the road. The three was not going to do it, and we had to get some other stuff.
Martin opened the second half with a three-pointer. The Irish made five passes before finding Grant open for another three that gave Notre Dame its biggest lead at 40-29 with 18 minutes left.
Sean Kilpatrick hit two threes and made a fastbreak layup off Cashmere Wright’s steal during a 13-3 run that evened the game at 47.
Point guard Eric Atkins had a driving bank shot and made an over-the-shoulder pass to Cooley for a layup during a 10-point run that put Notre Dame ahead to stay at 59-49 with 5:42 left. Atkins had 10 points and six assists.
Grant hit a fade-away jumper that kept Notre Dame ahead 64-56 with 1:32 left.
Very few guys can get that shot off, let alone make it, Cronin said.
Cronin benched forward Justin Jackson, who had started the first 15 games but failed to score in three of the last five.