SOUTH BEND - Amid an avalanche of concerns around the Notre Dame men's basketball program and new faces up and down and around the starting lineup, one constant remains.
Senior Tim Abromaitis knows what to do regardless of what else might be happening around him, something he showed early and often Tuesday in the exhibition opener against Saint Xavier (Ill.). The co-captain and first-team All-Big East preseason selection, unfazed by the four new names in the starting lineup, scored a team-high 28 points, including 20 in the first half, during a 90-72 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
“It felt like every other possession down I was taking a shot,” said Abromaitis, who took a team-high 20 to go with nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks. “I guess that’s just how it came to me in the first half. Couple guys were doing a good job of finding me for open looks and a few more could have gone down.”
Junior Jack Cooley was solid in his first career collegiate start. Comfortable in the low post with a deeper array of moves around the rim, Cooley scored 14 points with 11 rebounds and two blocks.
“My dad kept giving me a thumbs up during the game, so I figured I played pretty well,” Cooley said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Cooley’s rebound basket with just over eight minute remaining allowed Notre Dame to open its largest lead - 76-56 - and gave him a double-double for points and rebounds. He also played 23 minutes. Still, he felt good - really good - after playing what, for him, amounts to a whole mess of minutes.
“I felt pretty fine,” Cooley said afterward of his energy level. “It was a big confidence boost.”
Expected to run the team as the point guard, sophomore Eric Atkins quietly enjoyed an efficient evening. Seldom flashy or exhibiting much flair, Atkins methodically went about his business.
That included 19 points, three rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes. He also kept his turnovers (one) to a minimum.
“I played well (but) I need to improve on defense,” Atkins said. “I’m happy with my performance. I’m ready to build on it. Having Abro out there really calms you down.”
Abromaitis used the second half to journey into some different scoring spots. He stretched the Irish lead to 55-39 with a strong move in the middle of the lane, an area he rarely operated in the last two years. He later returned to his familiar spot - the baseline - where he took his defender off the dribble, drove hard to the hoop and delivered a two-hand dunk.
“I hope our fans realize it - he’s just a beautiful basketball player to watch,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “This is one of the best players in the country. Enjoy it, man.
“He was a rock for us tonight. With young guys running all over the place at times, he kind of steadied us.”
One of those young guys was Pat Connaughton, the lone Irish freshman, who delivered seven points, five rebounds, two assists and a whole bunch of energy in 16 minutes. He was the last of the nine available scholarship players in the game, but made a lasting impression in playing the way he has practiced since mid-October.
“He’s going to be important for us,” Brey said. “He’s just not afraid of the lights. He loves it.”
“The speed is a little different; the physicality is a little different,” Connaughton said of his first real college game. “I was excited to get into the mix. I was happy to get in the flow and not being too scared. That’s a tribute to the guys around me.”
Valparaiso native Brad Carp led the Cougars with 25 points.
“Brad is a guy who just doesn’t stop,” Saint Xavier coach Tom O’Malley said. “He’s a great player for us.”
Irish senior co-captain Scott Martin did not play. Martin has been nursing a sprained right ankle for the last 10 days and Brey didn’t want to take the chance of him re-injuring it before the season opener Nov. 12 against Mississippi Valley State. Martin also may miss Monday’s preseason finale.
“I’m trying to see if we can get him back in practice mid-week, next week as we go into that (regular season) stretch,” Brey said. “That’s the goal and I think we can achieve that.”
Former Notre Dame forward Carleton Scott, who had a chance to return for a fifth year in 2011-12, no longer is with Caceres, the professional team he signed with in Spain during the summer. Scott reportedly is weighing an offer to play professionally in Iceland. He decided to leave school early last spring with hopes of eventually making an NBA roster. An undrafted free agent, Scott participated in a rookie camp with the Miami Heat before heading overseas during the NBA lockout.
NOTRE DAME 90, ST. XAVIER 72
At Purcell Pavilion
NOTRE DAME 90: Tim Abromaitis 10-20 5-6 28, Jack Cooley 6-8 2-5 14, Eric Atkins 4-7 11-13 19, Jerian Grant 1-8 2-3 4, Joey Brooks 1-5 1-3 3, Patrick Crowley 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Dragicevich 2-4 2-2 6, Pat Connaughton 2-4 1-2 7, Tom Knight 3-5 1-2 7, Mike Broghammer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-62 25-36 90.
ST. XAVIER 72: Mark Peters 4-5 0-0 8, Brian Sherwood 2-5 0-0 4, Roosevelt Green 7-12 2-2 19, Ed Gilgenbach 1-9 0-0 3, Brad Karp 10-21 3-4 25, Sean Crary 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Hastings 0-1 0-0 0, Mike Beutel 0-0 0-0 0, Munir Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Jack Krieger 2-6 0-0 5, Zach Opheim 2-7 0-2 4, Mike Landstorm 0-0 0-0 0, Matthew Kiley 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 30-69, 5-8 72.
Halftime: Notre Dame 51, St. Xavier 39. 3-point shooting: Notre Dame 5-22 (Abromaitis 3-9, Atkins 0-2, Grant 0-4, Brooks 0-1, Dragicevich 0-2, Connaughton 2-4), St. Xavier 7-27 (Green 3-7, Gilgenbach 1-7, Karp 2-7, Hastings 0-1, Krieger 1-3, Opheim 0-2). Field-goal shooting: Notre Dame 30-62 (48 percent), St. Xavier 30-69 (44 percent). Rebounding: Notre Dame 45 (Cooley 11, Abromaitis 9, Knight 6, Connaughton 5, Grant 5), St. Xavier 34 (Karp 9). Turnovers: Notre Dame 11 (Abromaitis 3, Dragicevich 3), St. Xavier 10 (Green 3). Fouls (fouled out): Notre Dame 12 (none), St. Xavier 24 (Green). Assists: Notre Dame 17 (Atkins 6, Brooks 4), St. Xavier 18 (Green 7, Gilgenbach 7).
Staff writer Tom Noie: