New York, NY – In the final matchup of second round action the sixth-seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the 11th-seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights as part of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Rutgers had no problem with its first round matchup against 14th-seed DePaul as the Scarlet Knights rolled to a 76-57 win. The victory was the second straight for Rutgers including the regular season finale after they lost 11 of 12 contests dating back to Jan. 19. The win also evened up the Scarlet Knights overall record at 15-15.
The Irish spent most of the year in the bottom half of the top-25 but never really ascended to the top of the conference with their longest win streak in Big East play being three games. The Irish lost two of the last three contests to end the regular season and ended the year at 23-8 overall and 11-7 in league play. Notre Dame has never won a Big East title and has never gotten past the semifinal round where it has made appearances in five different seasons including the last three. This will be Notre Dame's last Big East Tournament, as the Irish will make the move to the ACC next season.
When these teams met up in South Bend in mid-January, Rutgers really gave the Irish a game but fell short in a 69-66 decision. The Irish now lead the all- time series by a 19-13 margin. The winner this time around gets the right to face third-seed Marquette in Thursday's quarterfinals.
Wally Judge could not be stopped in Rutgers first-round win over DePaul. The 6-foot-9 forward hung up a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double on a perfect 9- of-9 shooting effort. It was a hot shooting night for the whole team as Rutgers connected on 61.1 percent of its shots from the floor, including 6- of-11 from beyond the arc.
If Rutgers is going to pull off a surprise run in the tournament it will need more efforts like Judge's since leading scorer Eli Carter (14.9 ppg) was lost near the end of February with a broken right fibula. Myles Mack (13.5 ppg) is the only consistent double-figure scorer for the Scarlet Knights and he also enjoyed a strong first round by netting 19 points against DePaul. Judge's (7.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) performance against DePaul was his first double-double since he had posted one in each of the first two games of the season. However, Judge has not had many opportunities this season as the nine shots he took against DePaul marked just the eighth time this season he has had more than six field-goal attempts.
In its regular-season finale Notre Dame went up against Louisville which it beat in five overtimes earlier in the season. The Irish weren't so lucky the second time around in a 73-57 setback in which they shot just 39.3 percent from the field.
Notre Dame's struggles on the offensive end against Louisville were out of character. Efficiency is the key for the Irish as this season they are second in the county in assists (17.5 apg), while ranking second in the league in field-goal percentage (.470). The backcourt duo of Jerian Grant (!3.4 ppg, 5.7 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.7 ppg, 5.9 apg) have made sure to keep the ball moving for the Irish as each is among the top five players in the league in assists. On the interior, Jack Cooley (13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) has been throwing up double-doubles all season as the league's leading rebounder as well as one of a handful of players averaging a double-double nationally.