SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Evansville tried to get tough with Notre Dame's star big man Jack Cooley.
Not an easy task.
Cooley scored the first nine points of the game and finished with 19, Scott Martin pulled down 17 rebounds and the No. 22 Fighting Irish beat the Purple Aces 58-49 in the preliminary round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
"That was basically a Big East game, how physical it was in there," Cooley said. "It was a little unexpected because of their size, but they just came out and they played hard."
Jerian Grant added 11 points for Notre Dame, which limited Evansville to 31 percent shooting (19 of 61).
Cooley got the Irish off to a quick start and it wasn't until he took his first breather 5:34 into the game that another Notre Dame player scored when Eric Atkins hit a jumper. Cooley had 13 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the opening half to help send the Irish into the break with a 28-21 lead.
Tasked with containing the senior preseason All-Big East selection was Evansville's 6-foot-8 sophomore center, Ryan Sawvell, who gave up an inch in height and nearly 50 pounds. Sawvell finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Colt Ryan scored 15 points to lead Evansville, which hung around throughout the second half but could never put together a run to pull ahead.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey limited Cooley's minutes somewhat in the second half after the center picked up his third foul on an offensive charge just 1:22 into the period.
Although he wasn't thrilled with Notre Dame's 13 turnovers, Brey said he liked what he saw from his team. He praised Cooley's start and Martin's work on the boards, but credited the entire team's defense with the win.
"That's the only way we won the game tonight — 31 percent shooting by them," Brey said. "I thought Pat Connaughton did a fabulous job making (Evansville leading scorer Colt) Ryan and his teammates work for everything he got. And I thought when we got a little pressure on us, when it got to two possessions, our offensive efficiency was smart. We had to work to win, and I love that the first game of the season."
Evansville coach Marty Simmons called the Irish "very talented and unselfish."
"We hung in there, but we're still looking for any little thing down the stretch to give us a spark that could have changed the game," Ryan said. "Hopefully down the stretch we will be able to find ways to win these games."
This was the first of two games in South Bend comprising the first round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Notre Dame hosts Monmouth on Monday night, then travels to Brooklyn next weekend for games against St. Joseph's and either Florida State or BYU.