Busy Jack Cooley keeps eye on Notre Dame in ACC tournament

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Playing in the present while making a run at the NBA Development League record book, former Notre Dame power forward Jack Cooley also had his mind on the past.

Late Friday,Cooley grabbed a league-record 29 rebounds for the Idaho Stampede. As he kept getting rebound after rebound, Cooley’s thoughts were on what was happening with the Irish clear across the country in North Carolina in the ACC semifinal showdown against Duke.

Seriously.

“I continually asked throughout the game what the score was from a guy at the scorer’s table,” Cooley told the Tribune in a text message Saturday morning. “It’s always great to beat Duke.”

Cooley’s record night, which also included 27 points in 41 minutes, came at the expense of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. One of the D-Fenders’ assistant coaches is Gene Cross, who recruited Cooley to Notre Dame out of Glenbrook South High School in suburban Chicago. Cross spent two seasons as an Irish assistant.

“Beast doesn’t even BEGIN to describe his performance,” Cross told the Tribune in a Facebook message Saturday morning.

Cooley recently rejoined the Stampede after a 10-day contract with the NBA’s Utah Jazz. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 12.2 rebounds in 30.3 minutes.

Three-game grind

Advancing to the tournament championship meant that Notre Dame would play three games in as many days for the first time this season. It was the first time that the Irish had to go back-to-back-to-back in games since getting to the semifinals of the 2012 Big East tournament.

Doing so with a short bench – six Irish in a rotation that usually goes only seven deep all played at least 26 minutes on Friday – might be a concern. But not amongst the Irish.

“We’re anywhere from 18 to 22 years old and we’re still very young,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton, who at 22 is considered an old guy. “If we can’t get up for three games in a row on three consecutive days, then maybe we should be playing baseball.”

Connaughton is a pitcher in the farm system of the Baltimore Orioles.

Baseline bits

• The Irish are still considered a likely 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and are projected to open NCAA tournament play in Columbus, Ohio or Louisville, Ky. The Columbus games are Friday-Sunday while Louisville is Thursday-Saturday.

• Notre Dame wasn’t the only team to make history en route to its first-ever ACC tournament championship game. For the first time in its storied basketball history, North Carolina beat two higher-ranked seeds to get to Saturday. The No. 5 seed coming in, North Carolina beat No. 4 Louisville in the quarterfinals and No. 1 and defending tournament champion Virginia.

• Beating Duke allowed Notre Dame to bump its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to 18 and improve its Strength of Schedule to 101.

• The Irish entered Saturday’s championship with a 4-2 record against ranked teams, including victories in three of their last four.

• Mike Brey remains the only former Duke assistant coach to beat Mike Krzyzewski in head-to-head matchups. Brey has beaten Krzyzewski in three of their last four meetings.

• Friday’s victories by Notre Dame and North Carolina against the tournament’s No. 2 (Duke) and No. 1 (Virginia) marked the fourth time in history that the ACC tournament’s two top seeds lost on the same day. It’s the first time it happened since 1990, when Notre Dame still was an independent.

• Notre Dame entered Saturday’s championship looking for consecutive wins over North Carolina for the first time in school history. The Irish won 71-70 in Chapel Hill for the first time ever on Jan. 5. Tar Heels had won the previous five and led the all-time series 18-5.

• Saturday’s game was the 15th time that the teams have played a neutral-site game and the first since the 2008 EA Sports Maui Invitational championship, won by the Tar Heels, 102-87.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Former Notre Dame power forward Jack Cooley spent 10 days earlier this year in the NBA with the Utah Jazz.AP Photo/DAVID ZALUBOWSKI