|Notre Dame guard Scott Martin attempts to poke the ball away from West Virginia guard Kevin Jones, left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)|
No. 20 Notre Dame beats West Virginia 71-44
SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Swiftly and convincingly, No. 20 Notre Dame pulled away with the kind of resolve that has characterized the Irish's transformation during a head-turning nine-game winning streak.
Using balanced scoring and defensive quickness, the Irish coasted to a one-sided 71-44 victory over West Virginia on Wednesday night after leading by two points at halftime.
"I thought our offensive efficiency was excellent in the second half. When you had a chance to put somebody away this group has shown a cruelty to go for the jugular," coach Mike Brey said after the Irish secured his sixth straight 20-win season.
"That's what I really love about us. I think that can help us in March."
Jerian Grant scored 20 points and had a couple of acrobatic dunks, Notre Dame made 9 of 16 3-point attempts, shot 61 percent overall and outscored West Virginia 41-16 in the second half.
Scott Martin added 15 points and Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins had 13 each for the Irish, who were not expected to be contenders after losing three starters from last season and then Tim Abromatis early this season to a knee injury.
The Irish (20-8, 12-3 Big East) have not lost since Jan. 16 at Rutgers and are 15-1 at the Purcell Pavilion. It's the first time in program history Notre Dame has won nine straight Big East games.
"They really wanted that record," Brey said. "It's really special for this group to do it."
The Irish went on a 17-4 run to start the second half to break it open.
"We just got into a rhythm and once this team gets into a rhythm I think we can beat a lot of teams," said Grant, whose emergence has been one of the big keys in Notre Dame's tear.
"We just got flowing and obviously our defense held them to 16 points in the second half."
The Mountaineers (17-11, 7-8), meanwhile, are going in the other direction with six losses in eight games. Kevin Jones had 15 points for West Virginia, which shot just 31.5 percent and made only 6 of 27 field goal attempts after halftime. And the Mountaineers misfired on 10 of their 11 3-point attempts.
It was an ugly second half.
"They got us in transition and then we panicked and took quick shots," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
"Quick shots and bad shots -- that's a recipe for what happened. We got so many young guys that they panicked. ... We're not athletic. We're probably the most non-athletic team in the league. When you're non-athletic you start taking some quick shots and all of a sudden they're running at you, you've got problems."
Notre Dame's quickness began to show in the first 5 minutes of the second half after the Irish led 30-28 at halftime.
Atkins' three-point play, a steal leading to a dunk by Grant and Grant's 3-pointer after an offensive rebound built a 10-point lead. After a timeout, Atkins hit a jumper and Martin connected on a 3-pointer and the 17-4 run put the Irish up 47-32.
Grant took off on a dunk attempt with just less than 10 minutes to play and lost the ball on his way to the rim. But he hustled and came up with the ball in the corner and hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 58-35 lead.
"I kind of lost the ball. But I got it back," Grant said with a smile.
Just to show how things have been going for the Irish, Cooley tossed up a shot after a timeout had been called and it swished through late in the first half. He scored nine of his 11 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half as the Irish shrugged off a sluggish start and took a two-point lead behind 63 percent shooting.
West Virginia's Darryl Bryant, scoreless in the first meeting between the teams, a 55-51 Irish win in Morgantown on Feb. 8, had 10 points in the first half and none in the second.