SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Veteran Jack Cooley jumpstarted the offense while Notre Dame's defense put the clamps on visiting Evansville in a 58-49 season-opening victory on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish senior scored 19 points -- including Notre Dame's first nine -- while the defense limited the Purple Aces to 19 of 61 (31.1 percent) from the field.
"I thought Notre Dame made it hard for us to score," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "They're long and very athletic, they close out and they communicate well. I think we got frustrated at times and kind of gave in to them."
Cooley also had 11 rebounds, teammate Scott Martin hauled down a game-high 17 boards and guard Jerian Grant added 11 points.
Colt Ryan paced Evansville (0-1) with 15 points while Ryan Sawvell added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
"One of the things we talked about in practice was our defensive identity improving and really being able to rely on it," said Irish coach Mike Brey, now 13-0 in season openers. "That's the only way we won the game tonight."
Saturday's meeting -- which served as the first of Notre Dame's two preliminary-round games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic -- was the 10th between the intrastate rivals but the first since 1992-93.
Notre Dame led 28-21 after 20 minutes and extended the lead to double digits on Garrick Sherman's two free throws that made in 37-26 with 14:16 showing in the second half.
Four minutes later, Grant's layup opened a 43-30 Irish advantage. But the big edge didn't last. Evansville closed the gap to 43-36 on Ryan's baseline 3-pointer with 7:22 left. But Evansville got no closer.
Simmons said Notre Dame pressure pushed Evansville out of its game.
"They had us out of rhythm, we weren't waiting for screens, we weren't finishing our cuts (and) we settled too many times for perimeter jump shots," he said. "(And) we got to the line seven times and they got there 30."
Notre Dame's Martin said the Irish still have a ways to go on defense.
"It was good for us defensively," he said. "We're still working to establish a defensive idea and defensive identity. (But) it was a good win for us."
Notre Dame shot 40 percent (18 for 45) and outrebounded the Purple Aces 44-35. But the Irish had 13 turnovers to just eight for the visitors and struggled at the free-throw line, hitting just 18 of 30.
"I'd like to see us shoot free throws better," Brey said. "We were able to overcome that and I'd like to see us get into a rhythm Monday night (against Monmouth). I think we can shoot it overall better than we did tonight."
In the first half, the Irish opened a 14-4 lead thanks to a 10-0 run capped by Grant's 3-pointer. The Aces replied with a 7-0 surge to briefly cut the deficit to three after Jordan Nelson's 3-pointer with 11:21 showing.
But Notre Dame forward Cameron Biedscheid hit back-to-back buckets to help restore a cushion at 18-11 and Evansville never got within five points as the clock ticked down toward halftime.
NOTES: Notre Dame's Brey had never faced Evansville during his coaching career ... Evansville senior Colt Ryan is a preseason Missouri Valley Conference first-teamer and gained top all-conference honors in 2011-12 after averaging a team-high 20.5 points per game. ... Notre Dame's CVC play continues Monday at home against Monmouth. The Irish move on to final rounds next Friday and Saturday at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. ... Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley is a first-team preseason Big East pick. The Irish are tabbed to finish third. ... Evansville is coming off a 16-16 overall record, its best effort in 13 years. ... Notre Dame leads the series 6-4. The Purple Aces last beat the Irish 74-56 in 1991-92 on their home court.