Rutgers (12-13) at (23) Notre Dame (17-8)
Wednesday, February 15th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Joyce Center (9,149) -- South Bend, Indiana. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Rutgers 10-5, Notre Dame 13-1. Away Record: Rutgers 1-6, Notre Dame 4-3. Neutral Record: Rutgers 1-2, Notre Dame 0-4. Conference Record: Rutgers 4-8, Notre Dame 9-3. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 17-13.
GAME NOTES: Notre Dame looks to continue its surge up the conference standings Wednesday when the 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish welcome Rutgers to the Joyce Center for a Big East Conference clash.
Notre Dame made it six straight wins Saturday by handing DePaul an 84-76 loss. The hosting Irish trailed by three coming down the stretch but used a key 10-0 run to take control for good and improve to 13-1 at home this season. Notre Dame shot 66.7 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes and 59.6 percent overall while taking care of business at the foul line (16-of-18). Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley paced the effort with 22 points apiece, the latter adding a game-high 14 rebounds. Eric Atkins chipped in 14 points and handed out six assists as the Irish jumped to 9-3 in the Big East behind only Syracuse and Marquette -- both of whom have fell victim to ND during its current streak.
Rutgers was dealt a third consecutive loss and fifth in six games its last time out, falling 59-54 to Seton Hall at home. The Scarlet Knights suffered from poor shooting throughout, hitting at a 31.5-percent clip overall and 26.1 percent from three-point range (6-for-23). Yet the hosts found themselves in front after Dane Miller dropped in a three with a little more than three minutes remaining. Seton Hall answered right back with a triple of its own, though, and went on to score eight of the game's final 12 points. Mike Poole was high man for the Knights with 14 points off the bench while Eli Carter scored 13 as Rutgers stumbled to 4-8 in Big East action.
Notre Dame holds a 17-13 edge in the all-time series and has captured six of the last eight matchups, though the Scarlet Knights took a 65-58 decision January 16 in Piscataway. Rutgers is just 2-10 all-time on the road in this series with Notre Dame winning each of the last seven home matchups. The Irish notched a 78-69 win at the Joyce Center last season, while Rutgers' last win in South Bend came during the 1998-99 season.
The Scarlet Knights are forced to rely more on defense than offense in the talent-rich Big East. Rutgers holds opponents to 64.1 ppg and a 40.9 shooting percentage while sinking 43.1 percent of its field goals and posting 66.2 ppg -- standing ahead of only South Florida for worst in the conference. Carter and Myles Mack are charged with leading the offense, serving as the club's only double-figure scorers at 13.8 and 10.2 ppg, respectively. Both are also active from beyond the arc with the former dropping 42 threes on 34.4 percent shooting and the latter 36 on 34.6-percent accuracy. Gilvydas Biruta provides a solid 9.4 ppg and 5.4 rebounds per contest while Miller grabs a team-leading 6.2 boards per game and adds 6.9 ppg. The Scarlet Knights hold a decent 34.6-33.6 overall rebounding advantage.
The Fighting Irish have managed to find great success in arguably the country's most difficult conference thanks in large part to their defense, and timely contributions on offense. Notre Dame puts up 67.9 points per game, which in the Big East gets you slotted 13th out of 16 teams. In addition, the Irish post a rather mediocre field-goal percentage of 43.8 percent but have the league's third-best free-throw percentage (71.7 percent). Notre Dame is also among the conference's better teams in scoring margin (plus-5.6) with a defense holding the opposition to just 62.3 ppg and 40.9 percent shooting from the floor. The sophomore Grant gives the club an all-around presence with his 13.0-point average, 4.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 40 three-pointers on 35.7 percent shooting. Atkins backs the effort with a 12.9-point average, 3.6 assists, 3.3 boards and 36 triples on 39.6-percent accuracy. Cooley gives the Irish a third solid double-figure scorer at 11.5 ppg, leads the Big East with a 61.1 shooting percentage and secures a team-leading 8.8 rebounds per contest -- good for fifth in league play. Scott Martin adds further depth with his 9.1 ppg and 5.8 boards. Notre Dame holds down a slim edge on the glass overall (34.4-34.2).
Notre Dame has found a recipe for success and its underclassmen seem to be coming together as a unit at just the right time. The Irish figure to notch another win Wednesday and creep closer to Syracuse with plenty of basketball yet to be played in the regular season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 70, Rutgers 61
02/15 10:35:53 ET