SOUTH BEND, Ind. —
West Virginia played physical, kept the tempo at a preferred slower pace and was rebounding aggressively for most of the first half Tuesday night. That’s why the Mountaineers were within two points of No. 20 Notre Dame at the break.
In the second half the flow got away from them. And so did the game.
Notre Dame broke out with a 17-4 run starting the second half and then it was a runaway as the Irish coasted to a 71-44 victory.
“They got us in transition and then we panicked and took quick shots,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
“Quick shots and bad shots — that’s a recipe for what happened. We got so many young guys that they panicked. ... We’re not athletic. We’re probably the most non-athletic team in the league. When you’re non-athletic you start taking some quick shots and all of a sudden they’re running at you, you’ve got problems.”
The Mountaineers (17-11, 7-8 Big East) had plenty of them as they lost for the sixth time in eight games.
Kevin Jones had 15 points for West Virginia, which shot just 31.5 percent and made only 6 of 27 field goal attempts after halftime. And the Mountaineers misfired on 10 of their 11 3-point attempts.
Even worse, said Jones, was the Mountaineers’ effort after they fell so far behind.
“When we left them open, they made shots. ... when they left us open, we were not able to make shots,” Jones said. “They just had it going. It’s frustrating but we have to learn how to play through it. We did not. We kind of gave up at a certain point. That is not acceptable no matter how bad we are losing and no matter how many shots they are making.
“We can never give up and we did,” Jones said.
Jerian Grant scored 20 points and had a couple of acrobatic dunks, Notre Dame made 9 of 16 3-point attempts, shot 61 percent overall and outscored West Virginia 41-16 after the break.
Scott Martin added 15 points and Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins had 13 each for the Irish, who were not expected to be contenders after losing three starters from a year ago and then Tim Abromatis early this season to a knee injury.
Now the Irish (20-8, 12-3) have not lost since Jan. 16 at Rutgers and are 15-1 at the Purcell Pavilion. It’s the first time in program history Notre Dame has won nine straight Big East games.
“They really wanted that record,” Brey said. “It’s really special for this group to do it.”
Notre Dame’s quickness began to show in the first 5 minutes of the second half after the Irish led 30-28 at halftime.
Atkins’ three-point play, a steal leading to a dunk by Grant and Grant’s 3-pointer after an offensive rebound built a 10-point lead. After a timeout, Atkins hit a jumper and Martin connected on a 3-pointer and the 17-4 run put the Irish up 47-32.
Grant took off on a dunk attempt with just less than 10 minutes to play and lost the ball on his way to the rim. But he hustled and came up with the ball in the corner and hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 58-35 lead.
“We just got into a rhythm and once this teams get into a rhythm I think we can beat a lot of teams,” said Grant, whose emergence has been one of the big keys in Notre Dame’s tear.
“We just got flowing and obviously our defense held them to 16 points in the second half.”
Just to show how things have been going for the Irish, Cooley tossed up a shot after a timeout had been called and it swished through late in the first half. He scored nine of his 11 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half.
as the Irish shrugged off a sluggish start and took a two-point lead behind 63 percent shooting.
West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant, scoreless in the first meeting between the teams, a 55-51 Irish win in Morgantown on Feb. 8, had 10 points in the first half and none in the second.