SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jack Cooley
collected 19 points and 10 rebounds as No. 20 Notre Dame survived a late Rutgers comeback for a 69-66 Big East victory on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (15-3, 3-2 Big East) ended a two-game slump, their first losing streak of the season, as Pat Connaughton
had 17 points and Eric Atkins
added 14. Eli Carter
collected a game-high 20 points -- including six in the final two minutes -- as the visiting Scarlet Knights (12-5, 3-3) rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to within a point. Myles Mack added 12 for the losers.
Notre Dame led 38-31 at halftime and quickly extended the advantage to 13 points thanks in part to inside-outside play. Cooley drove for two quick baskets and Connaughton hit a baseline 3-pointer, one of six Irish long-distance shots on the night.
But Rutgers was unimpressed, employing an 11-2 run over a 4:25 span that cut the lead to 52-48 with 11:30 left in regulation.
The pesky Scarlet Knights twice got to within three points but the Irish answered each challenge and briefly pushed the lead to eight with 2:04 to play.
But back-to-back Carter buckets in the final minute trimmed Notre Dame's lead to 66-62 by the 48-second mark, and junior reserve Mike Poole dunked in a rebound after Carter's jumper missed with 17.1 seconds left to shrink the Irish lead to 66-64.
Connoughton, fouled by Carter with 12.8 seconds showing, hit the second of two free throws for a 67-64 lead but the Scarlet Knights quickly scrambled downcourt for a Carter layup with 7 seconds to play that made it 67-66.
Poole denied Notre Dame a chance to get the ball back downcourt with a steal with 5.7 seconds left. But Cooley blocked a potential game-winning drive by Carter, giving Notre Dame the ball with 2.3 seconds showing.
This time, the Irish got the ball inbounds, Atkins was fouled with 1.6 seconds left and he hit two free throws for a 69-66 lead.
Saturday's game was the lone meeting between the teams this season. Notre Dame now has a 19-13 series lead and nine straight wins in South Bend over Rutgers.
Notre Dame used 3-point shooting to outdistance Rutgers in the first half, hitting 5 of 12 tries. Connaughton had three, contributing to his game-high 11 points by halftime. Atkins and Cooley had 10 apiece.
Carter paced the Scarlet Knights with seven first-half points.
The Irish broke a 9-9 early tie on an Atkins 3-pointer at the 14:34 mark and never trailed the rest of the half. Notre Dame's lead hit nine points at 29-20 after a Cooley bank shot with 6:37 left.
The teams have split the last four meetings. Notre Dame won 71-53 at Purcell Pavilion on Feb. 15, 2012.
NOTES: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a friend of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, was on hand to cheer his home state Scarlet Knights and also accept a check for $10,033 for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged portions of New Jersey and the East Coast last October. Brey helped organize an online auction that concluded last Thursday with proceeds dedicated to storm victims. ... The Irish were the fourth nationally-ranked team Rutgers has faced in its first six Big East games. It lost to No. 7 Syracuse and No. 21 Cincinnati but beat No. 24 Pitt. ... Rutgers coach Mike Rice likes to mix up his lineup with no player yet averaging more than 29 minutes a game. Eight Scarlet Knight players have appeared in all 16 games entering Saturday's contest, with scoring leader Carter (15.9 points) tops at 29.4 minutes per game. ... Notre Dame junior Atkins entered Saturday averaging a team-best 16.5 points per game after scoring a season-high 21 points last Tuesday against St. John's. ... The Irish came in mired in their first losing streak of the season following back-to-back Big East losses to Connecticut and St. John's. Notre Dame had won 12 of its first 13 games and was ranked No. 20 entering Saturday's game. ... The Irish are back home Monday against Georgetown while Rutgers resumes play next Wednesday at home against St. John's.
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