New York, NY – Pat Connaughton made six 3-pointers and finished with 21 points to lead No. 24 Notre Dame past Rutgers, 69-61, and into the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
The Fighting Irish (24-8) survived a two-point effort from leading scorer Jack Cooley, thanks in part to getting a huge boost from Connaughton, who shot 6- for-8 from 3-point range.
Tom Knight chipped in 18 points and nine rebounds as sixth-seeded Notre Dame advanced to play third-seeded Marquette on Thursday. The Irish are trying to reach the title game for the first time in its last Big East Tournament appearance.
Austin Johnson netted a career-high 18 points, while Myles Mack also scored 18 for 11th-seeded Rutgers (15-16), which never led but was within two possessions several times in the second half.
"If it is (Johnson's) last game, wow, what a way to go out at Madison Square Garden and doing everything you possibly can to help your team," Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said of his senior forward.
The Scarlet Knights, one day after hitting a season-high 61 percent from the field in their win over DePaul, connected on just 30 percent in the first half to fall behind by double digits.
A 13-3 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Connaughton and Cameron Biedscheid, staked the Irish to a 22-10 lead 11 minutes in, and it was a 33-19 affair at the break.
Rutgers scored the first nine points in the second half to pull within five, but each time it got close Notre Dame -- namely Connaughton -- responded, as he and Jerian Grant each hit from long range to stop the rally.
It was a five-point difference three more times, the last coming after Mike Poole's bucket made it 54-49 with under six minutes to go. After Grant made two from the foul line, Connaughton spotted up for another triple to create some breathing room.
"The one thing about Pat that's been something that is a trait of his is, when the lights are the brightest and the stakes are really high, he's really, really good. He's such a gamer," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said.
The margin was cut to six down the stretch, and Knight made four consecutive free throws before Grant sealed the win with an emphatic fastbreak dunk.
Notre Dame, which will play in the ACC next season, has made the tourney semifinals each of the last three years ... Cooley shot 1-of-6 and has a total of 21 points over the last four games ... Grant finished with 11 points ... Wally Judge, after going 9-for-9 for 20 points against DePaul, finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting in defeat ... Rutgers has won multiple games in the Big East Tournament just once (1998).