MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Fans wearing the blue and gold of the home team started heading up the aisles and for the exits at WVU Coliseum with 51.7 seconds still remaining in Wednesday's game.
Having squandered a double-digit lead late in the second half, the Irish trailed by three points with 2:50 remaining be-fore getting consecutive 3-point baskets from Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Scott Martin within 1:40 to wrestle back control and a 55-51 victory.
Winners of five consecutive league games, and four in league play on the road, Notre Dame steps ever closer to securing an NCAA tournament bid at 16-8, 8-3 in the Big East.
Booed by the WVU student section each time he touched the ball, Jack Cooley responded with a game-high 21 points. Grant and Martin each added 12.
All seemingly was right with the Irish night when Grant's basket in the lane gave Notre Dame a 38-30 lead with 11:49 left. But Notre Dame's efficient offense went to sleep for five consecutive possessions. That allowed West Virginia to run off eight unanswered points and tie it at 38 following a Kevin Jones flip shot with 7:09 remaining.
Notre Dame's frustration started to show. Fouled on a dribble, which killed the play, Grant nonetheless fin-ished his drive and fired the ball toward the basket. The ball banged off the rim and hit Irish assistant coach Rod Balanis in the head.
Cooley returned from the media timeout with a rebound basket to give the Irish a 40-38 lead and their first basket in 5:35. Jones then delivered a corner 3 to give West Virginia its first lead -- 41-40 -- since it was 12-10. West Virginia wasn't done. Deniz Kilicli returned with another left-handed hook to make it 43-40, part of a 13-2 Mountaineer run.
Baskets by Cooley and Martin in the opening two minutes of the second half allowed the Irish to twice lead by 12 -- their largest road advantage in league play this season. But the expected West Virginia run arrived, and was fueled by Kilicli. He scored six quick points in an 8-2 burst that sliced the Irish advantage in half, 32-26, as Mike Brey burned a timeout with 15:25 remaining.
Another rolling left-handed hook from Kilicli nudged the Mountaineers back within four before a Cooley three-point play got the Irish back on track and believing.
As well as Notre Dame had worked defensively the first half, the Irish were a little loose -- and soft -- to start the second half when the game was there for the taking.
Notre Dame trailed early by as many as four but methodically tossed together a 9-0 scoring spurt that helped put the visitors up by seven on three different occasions in the first 20 minutes. The Irish defense also held the home team without a basket for 7:01 during the stretch.
When Martin hit a transition 3 with 3.3 seconds remaining before half, the Irish had their biggest lead -- 26-16 -- in front a real quiet Coliseum crowd. West Virginia's first-half point total was a season low in league play for a Notre Dame opponent. It tied the lowest output for an opponent this season. Sam Houston State managed a not-so-sweet 16 in November.
The Irish held the home team to two baskets the final 9:48. The Mountaineers shot 24.1 percent from the floor, 9.1 percent from 3. Notre Dame also had a 21-16 rebounding advantage.
After getting 32 three days earlier in the overtime win at Providence, West Virginia guard Truck Bryant missed all five of his shots and was scoreless in the first half.
Bryant finished with zero points.
Seeking to keep the good road karma around his team flowing, Brey returned to a open-collar dress shirt to go with his suit for his sideline apparel. Brey last wore the look, instead of his customary mock turtleneck, during the team's previous road win over Connecticut.
The Irish had won their two previous league road games and had not lost away from home since falling to Rutgers 23 days earlier -- the last time Notre Dame lost a game. Wednesday was the second of three 9 p.m. road starts.
Battling foul trouble the last time out in Saturday's win over Marquette, Cooley got going early down low. He scored eight points Saturday, but then had six of Notre Dame's first eight against West Virginia. Cooley had two offensive re-bounds and put-backs before his lay-in tied it at eight with 11:19 remaining.
When Cooley needed a break after battling Kilicli, seldom-used junior Mike Broghammer got the call.
Notre Dame jumped up by three (15-12) following a Jerian Grant 3 at 7:47. Cooley followed with another lay-in to bump the Irish advantage to five.
That gave him eight points the first 13:41. But he also picked up two quick fouls about three minutes apart and went to the bench with 4:15 left in the half and the Irish up seven.
Brey worked mainly with a five-guard lineup for a good chunk of the final four minutes.
Big East rookie of the week Pat Connaughton had a rough start to his next game out after getting 23 points and 11 re-bounds against Marquette. His poor pass led to a Jabarie Hinds dunk to start the game. Connaughton was replaced by Alex Dragicevich after the first media timeout. Connaughton finished 0-of-2 from the floor -- both from 3 -- in 14 first-half minutes.
Connaughton didn't score in the game.
Needing a good start on the road, the Irish opened by turning it over on their first possession, missing their first four shots and hitting one of their first eight. Still, the defense was solid and Notre Dame trailed by only one by the time the first media break arrived at 13:28.
With West Virginia's impending move to the Big 12, which could happen as soon as this fall, Wednesday likely was Notre Dame's last visit to WVU Coliseum as a fellow member of the Big East, something Brey cannot bring himself to comprehend.
"I'm still in denial," Brey said earlier this week.
Staff writer Tom Noie: