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Notre Dame

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Irish pick up gritty OT win

– While Jack Cooley was putting up the big numbers, Eric Atkins was biding his time.

When it was Atkins’ turn to take over, he thrived.

Cooley scored 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Atkins sealed the deal in overtime as Notre Dame beat DePaul 79-71 on Saturday.

Cooley posted his 14th double-double of the season and his fifth straight game with 10 or more rebounds as the Irish (18-4, 6-4 Big East) won for the fourth time in five games.

Atkins scored the first five points of the extra period for Notre Dame and finished with 16 points, earning his coach’s praise.

“Some big-time decisions (Atkins) made, and some big shots,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I really think our poise collectively comes from his poise. He is really poised.”

All five DePaul starters reached double figures in points, but the Blue Demons suffered their sixth straight loss despite a gritty second-half comeback.

Brandon Young led the Blue Demons (10-11, 1-7) with 15 points. Cleveland Melvin added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“I felt like we played great today,” Young said. “We played hard for 40 minutes. I don’t think we really played hard for the last five minutes.”

DePaul battled back to regain a slim lead midway through the second half as Notre Dame hit a rut on offense.

The Irish led by as many as 12 in the opening minutes of the second half after dominating the paint in the first half but shot just 34.6 percent from the floor in the second as DePaul erased the margin.

Notre Dame shot 43.5 percent from the floor overall. Cooley was 9 for 15 from the floor and made 8 of 10 free throws.

But it was the defense that Cooley took the most pride in.

“To end the game, and overtime especially, we just didn’t let them get as good of looks,” he said. “We really stopped transition.”

Notre Dame is 1-1 in overtime games this season. The Irish lost 79-70 to St. Joseph’s in November.

Brey lauded his team’s experience for not cracking under the pressure.

“We had a poise about us, that we’ve been here before,” Brey said. “And this group has been in a lot of game situations.”

Brey tied former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca for fourth place on the Big East all-time wins list with 139.