South Bend, IN – The 20th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish take aim at halting their current skid, when they play host to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Big East action at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday.
Mike Brey's Irish won 14 of their first 15 games this season and certainly looked the part of a conference contender. However, Notre Dame has hit a wall of late, with back-to-back conference losses to Connecticut (65-58) and most recently, St. John's (67-63). The setbacks spoiled a strong start to Big East play for the Irish who are now just 2-2 in-conference.
Mike Rice's Scarlet Knights are a solid 11-4 on the year and is 3-2 in conference play thus far. Rutgers has won three of its last four games and enters this contest off a hard-fought 70-67 win over USF this week.
This is the 32nd all-time meeting in this series, with Notre Dame holding an 18-13 advantage. The Irish have won seven of the last nine meetings and are 11-1 at home in the series all-time, including wins in each of the last eight matchups there.
Rutgers overcame a 3-point deficit at intermission, shooting .515 from the floor in the second half to earn the win at home against the Bulls. Wally Judge led the team in victory with 14 points. Myles Mack and Eli Carter added 13 points apiece. The team's 3-2 start to Big East play is its best since the 1999-2000 campaign.
The Scarlet Knights aren't putting up eye-popping scoring totals, averaging a modest 70.2 ppg, however, they have been efficient, shooting .465 from the field overall. Carter is the team's top scoring option at 15.9 ppg, but could be putting up better numbers if not for a rather weak .395 shooting. Mack is the only other double-digit average on the team with 13.0 ppg, on .530 shooting. Dane Miller (8.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Judge (7.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) provide some frontcourt balance.
The Irish aren't the biggest team around, employing a four-guard set in the starting five, but the team's one presence up front has dominated in the form of 6-foot-9 senior Jack Cooley. The veteran forward is converting over 60 percent of his shots on the year (.608) and is averaging a double-double with team-highs of 14.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Guards Jerian Grant (12.6 ppg) and Eric Atkins (12.2 ppg) are the perfect complements with their perimeter scoring and also team-up to form quite the one-two punch in terms of assists. The two have combined for 204 assists on the year.
Notre Dame lost its third straight to St. John's and fifth straight to the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden last time out. Atkins did his best to stop the skein, netting a game-high 21 points in the loss. Grant poured in 14 points, but Cooley was neutralized, finishing with 10 points and just five rebounds. Notre Dame shot a solid .462 from the floor in the game, but was just 1-of-9 from 3-point range.