MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The home crowd came to cheer on Kevin Jones Wednesday night, but it was Notre Dame’s center who stole the show in a 55-51 Fighting Irish victory over West Virginia.
Jack Cooley recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
West Virginia’s Jones, the Big East’s leading scorer and rebounder, picked up his 16th double-double of the year (14 points, 12 rebounds). The senior was going for his 10th straight game with 20 or more points. Only Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley have done that in the program’s history.
“I think (Cooley) took it as a challenge,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We talked about their front line. I thought Jack was fabulous tonight. He guarded but he also knew he could move around them a little bit. He has quicker feet to get there and get some buckets. The way he got some offensive rebounds tonight was amazing.”
It was the fifth straight Big East victory for the Irish (16-8, 8-3). During that streak, Notre Dame has beaten three teams in the Top 25 and limited all five opponents to 59 points or less.
For the Mountaineers (16-9, 6-6), it was the fourth loss in their last five league games.
Cooley was 7 of 9 from the field and 7 of 10 from the free throw line. Scott Martin and Jerian Grant each added 12 points for Notre Dame.
Jabarie Hinds scored 17 points, Deniz Kilicli had 16 and Jones 14 for the Mountaineers.
Three consecutive 3-pointers sealed the deal for Notre Dame. The treys left the Irish ahead 51-45 with 55.3 seconds remaining.
“Obviously, what happened was that they were 2 of 18 (previously) from 3 and they made three in a row,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They made shots and we didn’t make shots.”
“We have made some fearless threes this year,” said Brey. “We’re really good at the end of a clock and at the end of a game. We’re a really mentally tough and poised group. It was just a heck of a win for us on the road.”
“During this run (winning streak), they’ve all made big shots for us,” he added. “I think their concentration is better the last four minutes than it is in the first 36.”
West Virginia clawed its way back from a 12-point deficit early in the second half to lead 43-40 with 4:28 remaining. The Mountaineers’ last lead, 45-42, came with 2:33 left. Then came the triples by Eric Atkins, Grant and Martin.
“It was a hard-fought road win against a heck of a team,” said Brey. “We weathered a storm. You knew they were going to make a run. To go down three and come back and steal a road win, it’s big for our group. I thought our poise was really good when we went down three.”
Notre Dame scored nine straight points to take a 19-12 lead with 5:12 remaining in the first half.
A hook by Jones broke a seven-minute scoreless span for West Virginia.
Martin scored on a tip-in and followed with a 3-point shot to send the Fighting Irish into the locker room with a 26-16 lead, its largest advantage of the first half.
West Virginia hit just 24.1 percent from the field in the first half (7 of 29) and 9.1 percent (1 of 11) from 3-point range.
Notre Dame dominated the boards (21-16) and outscored West Virginia 14-6 in the paint and 8-2 on second-chance points.
West Virginia’s 16 points was its lowest first-half total of the season.
Notre Dame was ahead 32-22 with 16:35 left in the game, but the Mountaineers went on a 16-6 run to tie the game at 38 with 7:09 left.
Jones’ 3-pointer from the corner gave West Virginia its first lead, 41-40, since early in the game.
Kilicli capitalized with a deep left-handed hook to put the Mountaineers ahead by three, which prompted Brey to call a timeout.
Kilicli’s layup kept West Virginia ahead 45-42 with 2:50 left, but three consecutive shots from beyond the arc by Notre Dame had the Irish leading 51-45 with 55.3 seconds left.
Cooley scored four points from the line for a 55-49 lead with 5.8 seconds left.
The second half was a reversal of the first in terms of field goals. West Virginia knocked down 58.6 percent (17 of 29) against Notre Dame’s 38.1 percent (8 of 21). However the Irish were good on 42.6 percent of their shots for the game (20 of 47) compared to 41.4 for West Virginia.
Jones recorded his 16th double-double of the season and leads the Big East in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (11.2).
Meanwhile teammate Darryl “Truck” Bryant, averaging 17.6 points, was held scoreless. He was 0 of 6 from the floor.
Pat Connaughton, who scored 23 points Sunday in Notre Dame’s 73-59 victory over nationally ranked Marquette, was also held scoreless.
“We have really become cruel competitors,” Brey said. “We’re showing the signs to put the dagger in when we’ve had the chance. It’s a great win by a very confident team right now. You want to bottle it and ride it as long as you can.”
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