MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Not only does Jack Cooley look like Luke Harangody, tonight he played like him, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead Notre Dame to a 55-51 victory over West Virginia Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.
A poor first half and a poor ending sunk the Mountaineers, now 16-9, 6-6, and losers of four out of their last five games. West Virginia scored a season-low 16 points in the first half in a slow-paced game, trailing the Irish by 10 at the break.
“We let the game get away from us in the first half,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We missed shots that we’re supposed to make.”
But WVU was able to battle back after Notre Dame took its biggest lead of the game, 30-18, with 18:49 remaining. The Mountaineers got it down to eight at 16:14, then to four at 14:32, and then to two with 6:14 left before a 3 from the corner by Kevin Jones gave West Virginia its first lead of the second half, 41-40, with 5:22 remaining.
A layup by Deniz Kilicli gave WVU a three-point advantage, 43-40, and the Mountaineers again led by three, 45-42, on another Kilicli basket with 2:34 to go.
Then Notre Dame answered with an Eric Atkins 3 to tie it at 45, setting up the key sequence of the game when a Truck Bryant turnover at one end of the floor resulted in a Jerian Grant 3 at the other to make it 48-45, Notre Dame. Bryant then missed his next shot attempt driving down the middle of the lane and the Irish were able to turn that miss into their third 3 in a row, this one coming from Scott Martin to make it 51-45 with 58 seconds left.
“We fought back and got a lead and then they made two big shots when we were going under screens in the middle of the floor because they just had so many shooters and it’s hard to get help anywhere,” said Huggins.
Bryant, coming off a 32-point game at Providence on Sunday afternoon, including hitting the game-winning basket, had a tough night going 0 for 6 from the floor and failing to score for the first time this season. In fact, only four players scored tonight, 17 coming from freshman Jabarie Hinds, 16 from Kilici and 14 from Jones. Gary Browne scored the other four points - both baskets coming after the 15-minute mark in the second half.
Jones had his 16th double-double of the year with 12 rebounds, but his streak of consecutive 20 point games was snapped at nine.
“KJ goes 6 for 15 and that’s the second game he hasn’t shot the ball well and when he doesn’t shoot the ball well it’s hard,” said Huggins. “Truck doesn’t make any. They played hard; they just didn’t play very well.”
Cooley made seven of nine from the floor and added seven of 10 from the free throw line for his game-high 21. Seven of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive glass.
“I love Jack Cooley but the way he plays he should never get 21 on us,” said Huggins. “He gets 12 rebounds, seven offensive, and that was our whole focus – don’t let him rebound the ball. Keep him off the glass. He’s got really good hands, and apparently he’s awful strong because he kind of threw our guys around.”
Martin and Grant added 12 each for Notre Dame, now 16-8, 8-3. The Irish have won their fifth game in a row, including road victories at Seton Hall and Connecticut and a home win over then-No. 1 Syracuse during this recent stretch. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is now 13-5 against West Virginia, including a 5-3 record at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season and will face a well-rested Louisville team on Saturday afternoon. The 24th-ranked Cardinals are coming off an impressive 80-59 blowout victory over Connecticut on Monday night.
After that, West Virginia has road games against two teams it lost to at home in Pitt and Notre Dame, then a pair of home games against nationally ranked Marquette and DePaul before wrapping up the regular season on the road at much improved South Florida, which beat Pitt by double digits earlier tonight.