But the underlying theme for Cooley shouldn't be ignored: a chance to redeem himself from a mid-January outing in which he was benched by his head coach for poor play as the Irish fell 67-63 in Madison Square Garden.
With the exception of a Saturday's loss at Marquette, a game in which Cooley started but could hardly compete due to illness, the message sent that afternoon in the World's Most Famous Arena appears to have been received loud and clear.
Cooley has since ripped off eight double-doubles, three games with 14 or more rebounds, four more with 16 or more points, and anchored his Irish during an 8-4 run that cemented an NCAA Tournament berth -- his fourth in four seasons in South Bend.
With three more wins, Cooley's 2013 graduating class -- one that includes Tom Knight, Joey Brooks, and Mike Broghammer -- as the winningest in program history. (Knight is expected to return in 2013-14 for a 5th season). Their 94-38 record ranks behind only Luke Harangody's 2010 crew that finished 96-42 over four seasons.
Inexplicably during the 2013 class's time on campus, the Irish are just 1-4 mark vs. tonight's visitor, St. John's (16-12, 8-8), a program
Tied for fifth with Syracuse entering tonight's contest, Notre Dame needs two wins and a Syracuse loss vs. either DePaul or at #5 Georgetown, to win the coveted double bye in next week's Big East Tournament. The Irish finish the season Saturday at #8 Louisville for the Cardinals Senior Day.
Danger Ground?On paper, tonight's contest at the Purcell Pavilion favors the Irish:
- Las Vegas installed Mike Brey's group as a nine-point favorite, with the line since moving to 10 thanks to betting action favoring the Irish
- The Red Storm will play without leading scorer De'Angelo Harrison, suspended for the remainder of the season for violation of team rules.
- The Irish haven't lost on Senior Night since 2005
- St. John's hasn't won on the road in 40 days
But Steve Lavin's Johnnies bring one consistent skill set that troubles Brey's recent-edition Irish: the ability to get up in your grill and defend. Often a heavy zone team this season, the Red Storm handcuffed Notre Dame in a 67-63 victory nearly two months ago thanks to suffocating man-to-man defense.
"They really guarded the heck out of us with their speed and over the course of time it wore on us," said Brey following the loss.
Game NotesLosers to St. John's in three straight, each in Madison Square Garden, Notre Dame leads the all-time series between the teams, 20-19. The Red Storm prevailed in their last meeting, 69-68 in February 2010.
- The Irish are 11-11 all-time vs. St. John's in Big East play, with Mike Brey winning seven of 15 matchups heading into tonight.
- Notre Dame is 116-9 in its last 125 home games (.928), second nationally in terms of winning percentage to Kansas (.960). The Irish are 51-3 in their last 54 games played at the Purcell Pavilion dating back to the aforementioned 2010 loss to St. John's.
- Brey recently passed former St. John's coaching legend Lou Carnesecca to move into fourth place on the Big East's all-time wins list. Brey is 143-95 entering the final two games and tournament action in his 13th season at the helm.