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    Following Flynt - Seven Straight

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    It was a slow start with some ugly first half statistics, but Notre Dame turned things around after the break, getting another huge performance from junior forward Jack Cooley to secure a seventh consecutive victory. Tonight's 71-53 win over Rutgers improves the Irish to 18-8 overall and 10-3 in the BIG EAST Conference.

    Notre Dame clinged to a 33-28 halftime lead, thanks only to 6-for-13 shooting beyond the arc and 11-for-14 from the charity stripe.

    The Irish shot just 8-for-27 from the floor in the first half, and prior to Eric Atkins' layup with 11:57 left in the game, Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant were the only Notre Dame players who had made a field goal from inside the arc.

    Rutgers committed 26 team fouls, sending Notre Dame to the line for 32 free throws, where the Irish converted 75% of those shots - certainly a contributing factor to tonight's big win.

    Cooley followed up his BIG EAST Player of the Week performance with another monster evening. He scored 22 points and pulled down 18 boards for his third straight double-double and his ninth of the season. Jerian Grant (11 points), Pat Connaughton (10) and Eric Atkins (10) also finished in double digits.

    Not only does the seventh straight victory help Notre Dame keep pace with Marquette for second place in the conference, but it avenges the team's most recent loss - a 65-58 defeat at the hands of the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J. on Jan. 16.

    Since that loss, Notre Dame has defeated #1 Syracuse and won key road games at Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, while also beating #15 Marquette, DePaul and of course, Rutgers here tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.

    When fifth-year guard Tim Abromaitis was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Black Friday, it looked like a black eye and major setback for Notre Dame's season. Many thought head coach Mike Brey's team would struggle to make the NIT, let alone the Big Dance.

    Two months ago, no one in America thought the Irish would be ranked in mid-February. Now, however, Notre Dame is poised to be watching on Selection Sunday and this team has the confidence to play with anyone in the country - and with four regular season games remaining, there is perhaps no better attitude a team can have.

    Stay tuned to UND.com for tonight's highlights and post-game press conference.

    Let's hope this improbable run continues on Saturday in Philadelphia. The Irish will meet Villanova at 9 pm ET on ESPNU, before returning home next Wednesday, Feb. 22 for another game with West Virginia.

    In my years of watching Notre Dame basketball, Coach Brey has had some better squads, but none have been as enjoyable to watch and as fun to root for as this 2011-12 team.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

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