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Survive and Advance: Irish Beat Rutgers in BIG EAST Second Round

Mar 14, 2013, 2:19 AM EDT

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Notre Dame’s final appearance in the BIG EAST tournament got off to a great start on Wednesday night, as the #6 seed Irish held off a Rutgers rally to secure a 69-61 victory at Madison Square Garden.

The Irish were led by Pat Connaughton, who came through with one of the best performances of his young career, and certainly his best night of the 2012-13 season. The sophomore guard tallied a season-high 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Connaughton’s effort was all the more impressive when you consider Notre Dame’s recent offensive struggles in the Garden. Anyone who watched the St. John’s game in January, last year’s semifinal loss to Louisville, or even the 2012 quarterfinal win against South Florida knows the MSG rims haven’t always been kind to the Irish.

Against the Scarlet Knights, Notre Dame shot 41.5% (nothing spectacular), but made 10 three-pointers, good for the team’s best outside shooting total since making 12 against Seton Hall on Jan. 5.

“We made big threes tonight,” head coach Mike Brey said. “That’s something I’d love to see us ride. I think we’re a team that could shoot the ball better than we shot it from the arc throughout the year. I would love to see this jump start us throughout the year. It’s a great weapon for us.”

While the outside shooting was key, we certainly cannot forget Tom Knight, who continues to put tiny Dixfield, Maine on the map. The senior forward scored a career-high 18 points and finished one rebound shy of his first career double-double.

Defensively, the Irish surrendered just 19 points in the first half, tying the fewest they have ever allowed in a BIG EAST tournament game. Coincidentally, that also came against Rutgers (Mar. 10, 2009).

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With the win, Notre Dame improved to 10-17 all-time in the BIG EAST tournament, and 9-12 under Brey.

By week’s end, Brey hopes his Irish can notch three more victories to end the program’s tenure in the conference on the ultimate high note – much like the Notre Dame women’s team did on Tuesday in Hartford.

When asked about the BIG EAST tournament over the years, Brey has often talked about “getting to Saturday night,” and he reiterated that focus following the second round victory.

“We expect to be here a while, no question. We love New York City. I’ll take that over South Bend for a while, so we’re going to stay.”

In March, it’s all about survival, and on Wednesday, Notre Dame moved one step closer to Saturday night, surviving what they hope was the first of four rounds in the Big Apple.

The Irish are now 24-8 this season and will face #3 seed Marquette in Thursday’s fourth quarterfinal, where they look to avenge a recent 72-64 loss at the hands of the Eagles.

The game is scheduled for 9 pm ET, but should tip off closer to 9:30. You can watch it on ESPN or listen to the radio broadcast on UND.com.

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