Notre Dame Routs USF: Notes and Numbers

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Notre Dame is off to its best start in 30 years in men’s college basketball and gaining confidence with every victory. The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish too their seventh straight Saturday, routing runt of the Big East litter South Florida 78-55 with a balanced scoring attack led by Jack Cooley’s career-high 18 points.

The strong start is the program’s best since the 1980-81 season. The Irish can match their best-ever record through 14 conference games (11-3 in 2000-01) by winning at No. 25 West Virginia next Saturday.

For those of you unaware, Cooley is nicknamed “Baby Gody” because of the fact that he has the same haircut and looks a lot like the just departed Luke Harangody.

Cooley came off the bench during an early 22-0 run on Saturday and made his first nine shots – giving him a stretch of 14 consecutive field goals over two games – before missing a 15-footer in the closing minutes.

The 6-foot-9 sophomore entered averaging 3.8 points per game for a veteran-laden team that starts four seniors and a graduate student. But he was 5 for 5 for 10 points in 13 minutes against Louisville and took up where he left off at the Sun Coast Dome. Carleton Scott scored 13 points and Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis had 12 apiece for Notre Dame, which had six players score in double figures. Shaun Noriega led South Florida (8-18, 2-11) with a career-best 23 points.

Notre Dame’s seven-game conference winning streak is its longest in Big East regular-season play since the Irish won their last five of 2006-07 and the first two league games the following season. It’s the team’s best stretch within the same season since 2000-01, when the Irish won eight straight Big East games. The loss was the 13th in 15 games for the Bulls, who blew a 16-point second-half lead in falling 59-58 to Marquette last Wednesday. They really were never in this one, missing 11 of their first 12 shots and shooting 20 percent in the opening half – 30.4 percent for the game.

The Irish led 41-17 at halftime, despite Hansbrough only having two points on 1-for-2 shooting. The senior averaged 24.2 points over the previous five games and played long enough in the second half to finish 5 of 10 from the field with eight assists and two steals. Martin and Tyrone Nash each scored 10 points for Notre Dame. Since consecutive lopsided road losses to Marquette and St. John’s in early January, the Fighting Irish have put together their first three-game conference road winning streak since 2000-01.

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