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Cooley scores 22 to lead No. 23 Irish over Rutgers

Rutgers coach Mike Rice found himself standing in front of a silent huddle while looking for someone to step up in the second half against Notre Dame.

Jack Cooley scored 17 of his 22 points after halftime to lead the No. 23 Fighting Irish to a 71-53 win over the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday night.

"You need somebody that's sick of what's taking place on the floor and right now we don't have that," Rice said. "Right now we have guys kind of putting their head down, bad body language. It's a tough league. You chose this league."

Rutgers managed to shoot just 39 percent, turned the ball over 13 times and committed 26 fouls. Dane Miller led the Scarlet Knights with 11 points.

"Once we get punched, it looks like we have a glass jaw right now," Rice said. "We have to respond better."

Rutgers (12-14, 4-9 Big East) has lost four in a row and six of seven since beating Notre Dame a month ago.

Cooley was spurned in the second half after being pushed to the ground by a Rutgers defender. The 6-foot-9 forward also had 18 rebounds for his third straight double-double.

"They really shouldn't just push me to the floor," Cooley said. "It really doesn't work out good. It kind of lit a fire under me and helped me get on a little run."

Jerian Grant added 11 points, Eric Atkins had 10 points and eight assists, and Pat Connaughton also scored 10 for the Irish.

Notre Dame (18-8, 10-3) extended its winning streak to seven straight and earned 10 conference wins for the third straight year. Notre Dame's last loss came at Rutgers on Jan. 16.

"I'm very pleased with the end result," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "I thought our defense was fabulous and that was the key. We could not guard them a month ago."

Cooley said Brey insisted at halftime that the Irish needed the big man to get things rolling in the paint. Besides entry passes, Cooley helped himself with eight offensive rebounds.

"(Cooley) does a good job playing off of Eric and Jerian's drives," Brey said. "We certainly want to go to him. He's the go-to guy when he gets offensive rebounds. He gets us extra possessions."

The sophomore guard duo of Grant and Atkins directed an Irish offense that tallied 16 assists on 20 field goals.

"Those two find ways to get me the ball. I don't even think I'm open," Cooley said. "I'm telling them not to pass it and they give it to me and I'm wide open. They're just great passers."

Notre Dame shot only 40 percent from the field, but seven 3-pointers along and 24 free throws helped contribute to the large lead. Notre Dame led by as many as 21 in the second half after taking a 33-28 lead into halftime.

Brey said his team's basketball IQ allowed his players to keep control of the game throughout the second half.

"The last eight minutes, I didn't say much," Brey said. "Eric Atkins was running that thing tonight. He ran the whole gym. I don't know if he made popcorn, too. He did everything tonight."