Notre Dame, IN – The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will try to move to 2-0 on the young season when they play host to the Monmouth Hawks as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
The Hawks got their season off to a flying start at home on Friday, routing the Hofstra Pride, 91-62. The victory was just want Monmouth needed, as it started the 2011-12 season with losses in its first eight games en route to a 12-20 overall record.
Notre Dame tipped off its season on Saturday night, and behind an impressive effort at the defensive end of the floor, it came away with a 58-49 win over Evansville. The Irish have now won all 13 season openers under the tutelage of head coach Mike Brey, and they improved to an incredible 101-7 in their last 108 games at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame has won all four previous matchups between the two programs. History is not with Monmouth in this one, as it is 0-20 all-time against ranked teams, and 0-40 against members of the Big East.
Monmouth put together a fantastic all-around effort in the opener, as it connected on 50 percent of its field goal attempts (36-of-72), 92.3 percent of its free throws (12-of-13), and drilled seven three pointers. In addition to an explosive game scoring the ball, the Hawks also shut down Hofstra, holding it to less than 30 percent shooting while forcing 23 turnovers. Leading the way was sophomore guard Andrew Nicholas, who netted a career-high 28 points in just 27 minutes of action. Jesse Steele also put together a strong effort in the backcourt, scoring 10 points, dishing out six assists and logging four steals. Gary Cox (10 points) came off the bench and hit all four shots he attempted. Dion Nesmith finished with just three points, but he figures to be a crucial part of the team this season after averaging nearly nine points per game in 2011-12.
It was not the sharpest of outings for Notre Dame in the opener, as it connected on just 40 percent of its total shots, including 4-of-17 three- pointers, while committing a game-high 13 turnovers. The good news for the Irish is that it was able to make up for it by holding Evansville to a lowly 31.1 percent shooting. Jack Cooley scored the team's first nine points, and he finished with a double-double consisting of 19 points and 11 boards. He also contributed six blocks and drained a three-pointer. The senior is expected to be one of the team's top scorers all season now that last year's leading scorer, Tim Abromaitis (14.0 ppg) has graduated. Jerian Grant was the only other Irish player to score in double figures with 11 points, which was actually below his season average in 2011-12 (12.3 ppg). Scott Martin struggled from the floor (1-of-6), but he counterd his poor shooting by ripping down 17 rebounds. Eric Atkins also figures to play a huge role this year after a solid sophomore campaign (12.1 ppg, 4.1 apg). He dished out four assists in the opener but managed just seven points.