SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey thought his team took big strides in its development Saturday.
Freshman Pat Connaughton had 23 points and 11 rebounds as Notre Dame made 11 3-pointers and beat No. 15 Marquette 76-59."I told them in one of the last media timeouts, 'I feel like I'm coaching men today,' " Brey said. "I thought today we took another step and kind of played like men."
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Connaughton shot 5 for 8 on 3s to lead the Irish (15-8, 7-3 Big East) to their fourth straight win. Notre Dame has defeated five ranked opponents this season.Eric Atkins chipped in 18 points and Jerian Grant had 12 in a strong performance by the Irish backcourt."We're very cool competitors when we had a chance to put it away. I'm thrilled to see that from this group," Brey said. "We played a heck of a basketball team today."The loss snapped a seven-game conference winning streak for Marquette (19-5, 8-3). Darius Johnson-Odom scored 10 points for the Golden Eagles in the first half, but was held to just two points the rest of the game.Vander Blue chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds for Marquette. The Eagles shot just 2 of 13 from 3-point range.Notre Dame made its move after falling behind 16-12 to the fast-paced Marquette team. The Irish used a 9-0 run with five points coming from Connaughton to lead 21-16 with 6:48 left in the first half. Atkins capped the three-minute run in a blur, flying past the Marquette defense for a fast-break layup.Johnson-Odom helped the Golden Eagles keep pace with Notre Dame while the offense shot just 36.7 percent in the first half. Johnson-Odom scored 10 points and Blue added eight points and four rebounds.Marquette coach Buzz Williams pointed to poor perimeter defense as the difference in the game.Davante Gardner, who normally starts for the Golden Eagles, was sidelined for the second-straight game with a knee injury."We couldn't guard them off the bounce," Williams said. "They repeatedly put us in rotation which is why they shot as many threes as they did."Connaughton led a balanced Irish attack in the first half with eight points as Notre Dame went into the break with a 30-26 lead. The traditionally slow-paced Irish scored four fast-break points in the first half while holding Marquette to zero.Notre Dame's first four baskets in the second half came from 3-point range."When 3-pointers are falling in this building, it's really hard to beat us," Atkins said. "It was the same way against Syracuse."Connaughton added: "I hit one 3 that rolled around the rim about six times. Usually when you hit one of those, you know it's going to be a good day."Connaughton started his fourth-straight game and has started feeling comfortable play increased minutes."I'm still a freshman on the stat sheet, but yeah, I think I'm feeling better about it," Connaughton said.The loss snapped a seven-game, winning streak in the Big East for Marquette. Notre Dame's has won four straight in the conference. Notre Dame has beaten five opponents who were ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the game."I think our guys are very focused on showing up on selection Sunday," Brey said. "God bless them. They should be because they've put us in this position with their focus and business-like approach to go get it."