SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A strong performance by its star and solid defense were the keys for No. 22 Notre Dame against Evansville in Saturday's season opener.
Jack Cooley scored the first nine points of the game and finished with 19, Scott Martin pulled down 17 rebounds and the Fighting Irish beat the Purple Aces 58-49 in the preliminary round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
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 led Evansville with 15 points.
"That was basically a Big East game, how physical it was in there," said Cooley, who added 11 rebounds and six blocks. "It was a little unexpected because of their size, but they just came out and they played hard."
Evansville 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."
"If you double here they're going to make the extra pass," Simmons said. "They can make perimeter shots. They're very good off the dribble. When you play here they've just got a long tradition. They're a good basketball team."
Simmons said he would have preferred a more up-tempo game.
"We're better at that, when we're throwing the ball ahead and we're attacking. That's just something we're going to have to continue to work on. We've got to get more stops. Foul trouble probably dictated a little bit of that with (senior guard Troy) Taylor being out, because he's kind of the guy that makes us go in transition."
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.
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