SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With 18 straight Atlantic Coast Conference games looming after New Year’s Day, John Mooney knew Notre Dame couldn’t afford a hangover from its pre-Christmas loss to Indiana Sunday against Alabama A&M.
“Any time you lose in the fashion we did it’s tough,” Mooney said after his seventh straight double-double (and 10th overall) of 16 points and 18 rebounds helped the Fighting Irish to an 82-56 rout of the Bulldogs. “We took care of business.”
Notre Dame, which overcame a 17-point deficit to take a late lead but eventually lost to Indiana 62-60 on Dec. 21 in Indianapolis, never trailed in improving to 9-4 against first-time opponent Alabama A&M (3-8).
“This gives us a little more confidence going into conference play,” said T.J. Gibbs, who led five Irish players in double figures with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line. “We’ve got to be tough; we’ve got to be smart, and we’ve got to value the ball each possession. Just let it happen.”
Reserve Dane Goodwin had 12 points while Prentiss Hubb and Juwan Durham contributed 11 points each for Notre Dame, which shot 53% (18 of 34) from the field in the second half. The Irish finished the game shooting 48% with 23 assists on their 33 field goals (in 69 attempts).
“I love how we move the basketball,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “That’s going to give us a chance. They play the right way. The real (tests) start Saturday (at Syracuse).”
Alabama A&M coach Dylan Howard feels the Irish, though 0-2 in the ACC after losses to North Carolina and Boston College, have enough ammo to make a run in the ACC, where they finished tied for last during an injury-plagued season.
“They are going to be a team to be reckoned with in the ACC because they’ve got shooters,” Howard said. “I see them right there in the top five.”
“One of our goals is to get up a lot of shots,” Howard said. “We just didn’t make a lot of them. For the most part, though, a lot of them were great looks.”
The Irish never trailed in taking a 36-18 halftime lead. Notre Dame built the lead with strong rebounding – a 30-21 advantage with Mooney, second in the nation at 13.1 rebounds per game, grabbing 11 – and 43% shooting (15 of 35). The biggest lead of the first half, 29-10 with 4:39 to go, was forged mostly on a 19-4 run over an 8:27 stretch.
The Irish found their long-distance shooting eyes early in the second half, hitting 10 of 21 (48%), with Hubb’s 3-pointer making it 51-29 with 13:36 remaining. The biggest lead was 30 points on several occasions.
Alabama A&M: Howard played his high school basketball at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Harding, used 11 players in the first half but the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome their poor 7-of-36 shooting (19%). A&M, which never led, started 0 for 6 in the first 4:15 and ended the first half 0 of 6 in the last 3:18.
Notre Dame: The Irish entered the game shooting 42% from the field (277th nationally), including 33% (174th) from beyond the 3-point line. Those numbers will have to improve if the Irish, who finished tied for last in the ACC last season, hope to overcome their 0-2 league start.
Durham went down near the Alabama A&M bench with 7:56 remaining and went to the locker room after a 3-pointer by Nate Laszewski made it 68-44. The 6-foot-11 junior returned to the bench with ice on his left knee and finished the day with five rebounds and five blocks.
“It was just a little slight strain,” Brey said. “I think he was a little scared because it looked like a hyperextension. But I don’t think there is anything there.”
Alabama A&M: The Bulldogs open Southwestern Athletic Conference play Saturday at Grambling State and Monday at Jackson State.
Notre Dame: The Irish return to the ACC with two straight road games – Saturday at 1-1 Syracuse and Jan. 8 at 1-1 NC State.
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