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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 30, 2018 1:00 am

Defense saves day for Notre Dame

Gibbs scores 15 to lead Irish attack

JOHN FINERAN | Associated Press

SOUTH BEND – Faced with a nine-point deficit with 9:53 left Saturday against winless Coppin State, Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs knew his team needed a wake-up call – from its defense.

“We knew we had to do it on the defensive end,” the 6-foot-3 junior Gibbs said after scoring 15 points to lead three players in double figures as the cold-shooting Irish rallied for a 63-56 victory over the Eagles. “It wasn't about our offense at that point. We know our offense is going to come.”

Notre Dame (10-3) survived a 28 percent shooting effort (9 of 32) in the second half by holding Coppin State (0-15) to just two buckets in its last 10 attempts after the visitors from Baltimore took a 47-38 lead. The Irish also forced four of the Eagles' 14 turnovers and finished the game on a 25-9 run.

“I thought T.J. handled the leadership well as we finished the game,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. Gibbs also had five assists in 33 minutes.

Junior John Mooney added 14 points and eight rebounds, and Dane Goodwin had 13 points as Notre Dame concluded their nonconference schedule. Notre Dame opens Atlantic Coast Conference play Tuesday at No. 10 Virginia Tech. Junior center Juwan Dunham had six points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.

“They made a run to start the second half,” Mooney said. “We didn't come out energized or focused in that half. T.J. got us together and said we've got to defend and scrap it out.”

Senior forward Cedric Council had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Juan Dixon's Eagles (0-15), who have played the second toughest nonconference schedule of the season. Dejuan Clayton led Coppin State with 15 points.

“We're extremely thrilled with that performance,” Dixon said. “We just came up a little short. I thought we defended really well on both ends of the floor.”

Coppin State outshot Notre Dame 36 percent to 34 percent for the game and outrebounded the Irish 48-37. But Notre Dame finished with just six turnovers, only one in the final 20 minutes.

Notre Dame broke out to a 25-13 lead on Mooney's slam with 7:41 to play before Dixon called the second of his three timeouts in the first half. Whatever he said got through as the Eagles, who led briefly early, closed on a 14-4 run and trailed just 29-27 at halftime.

Notre Dame, which had the lead for 18:10, finished the first half hitting just one field goal – Gibbs' close-in jumper with 35 seconds remaining – in six attempts and committed four turnovers.

Durham had his fifth block in the first minute of the second half. But the Eagles started with a 7-2 run with Lamar Morgan and Clayton hitting 3-pointers to take a 34-31 into the media break at 15:41 as the Irish made just one of eight shots.

Goodwin's 3-pointer tied it when play resumed, but the Eagles used a 6-0 run in 1:09 to grab a 42-36 lead when Brey called timeout at 12:53.

Clayton gave Coppin State a 44-36 lead after play resumed. Council's 3-pointer with 9:53 put Coppin State up 47-38 and the Irish seemed to be in trouble.

But Notre Dame responded with a 21-4 run in 5:06 that included a flagrant foul by Justin Steers as Mooney tried to dunk. Mooney scored seven in the Irish run, including a 3-pointer, as Notre Dame went up 59-51 with 4:47 left.