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March 5, 2013

Fighting Irish Pound Storm in Rematch

No. 24/24 Notre Dame used an eight-minute stretch in the second half of its second meeting with St. John's this season to put the Red Storm (16-13, 8-9 BIG EAST) away for good in a heated and emotional matchup that resulted in a 66-40 trouncing effort by the Irish.

The contest was the Johnnies' last road game of the season.

St. John's led the Fighting Irish (23-7, 11-6) by four points, 28-24, at the 18:36 mark of the second stanza. However, Notre Dame's zone frustrated the Johnnies as it took control of the contest, tying the game at 30 about six minutes into the second half. On a basket by sophomore swingman Pat Connaughton, the Irish earned their first advantage of the stanza, 32-30, and marked the last lead change of the game with 13:45 remaining in the period.

Notre Dame used the Connaughton basket as part of a 21-4 run throughout a span of a dominating eight minutes that surged the Fighting Irish ahead by 17 points, 51-34, with jet propulsion speed by the 5:49 mark of the second half. That lead was extended to as much as 28 points, 66-38, with 2:13 left in the game.

The Red Storm seemed to have no answer for the excellent ball movement of Notre Dame, which was highlighted by the effective high-low game of power engine, senior forward Jack Cooley and backcourt motor, junior guard Jerian Grant. Grant scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-16 from the field, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. He also had eight assists in the matchup. Cooley netted 12 points to go along with an unmatched 13 rebounds in the game.

"I thought Grant was really big for them throughout the entire game," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin. "When they were struggling in the first half and we were trying to create some separation, Grant really kept them around and within close range. Then, in the second half, he continued to play with a hot hand, and then their bigs got involved and they had a nice balance with both an inside-outside attack. Then they just carved us up, just sliced us up for easy baskets."

With 1:46 remaining in the matchup, emotions flared up and punches were traded when St. John's sophomore swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer and Notre Dame's freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid got into an altercation at mid-court as Cooley received an ovation from his home base on senior night and headed to the bench. As a result, both Pointer and Biedscheid received technical fouls and were ejected from the game. Red Storm's sophomore swingman Amir Garrett was also ejected from the game because he left the bench during the altercation.

Pointer got off to a very strong start in the matchup with the Irish and finished with seven points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.

"I have to go see it myself," said Lavin of the altercation. "I didn't get to see any of it actually. I don't know what prompted it or what happened, the referees just said that both players got into a fight, and that was why they both got kicked out."

Despite St. John's going into halftime leading, 26-22, Notre Dame outscored the Johnnies 44-14 in the second half and shot at a 68-percent clip (17-of-25) from the field, including 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) from 3-point range. Conversely, the Red Storm secured only 18.5 percent (5-of-27) of their shots in the second stanza.

"We don't have to look much further than the second-half numbers," said Lavin. "In particular, Notre Dame shoots 68 percent from the field and St. John's shooting 18 percent. I think that really was the telltale sign, and that was what led to Notre Dame getting the victory tonight. They put the ball down low, got good looks, high percentage shots in the paint and they were very aggressive in attacking the rim. They probed out through dribble penetration, through extra passes, through the high-low and got good look after good look."

In the first half, the collective effort of the Johnnies appeared to be the factor on both ends of the floor that would put them over the top, as the squad shot 41.4 percent (12-of-29) in the first half, while holding Notre Dame to only 27.6 percent (8-of-29) from the field.

The Red Storm trailed the Fighting Irish at the 4:45 mark of the first half after a 3-pointer by Grant put the Fighting Irish up by an ace, 19-18.

However, the Johnnies counterpunched with a basket from freshman forward JaKarr Sampson, who netted a team-high 12 points and five rebounds in the game. His field work was followed up by Garrett's completion of a conventional three-point play and a clutch 3-pointer by Pointer, which pushed the Storm's advantage over the Irish up to seven points, 26-19, with only a minute left before the break.

Notre Dame shot 46.3 percent (25-of-54) overall, including 47.1 percent (8-of-17) from 3-point range, while St. John's hit only 30.4 percent (17-of-56) of its shots overall, struggling from beyond the arc and making only 1-of-13 attempts.

"We just know that players are going to have to step up," said Sampson. "Other players are going to have to step up big time since we're without D'Angelo Harrison]. So it's going to be pretty much a different team out there."

Fighting Irish's junior Eric Atkins had 15 points and seven assists in the win, while the Red Storm's sophomore guard Phil Greene had 10 points and three rebounds in the loss.

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