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McGRATH: Marquette posts perfectly delightful victory over bitter rival ND

Marquette players bask moment their victory over Irish whose defectifrom Big East rankled their Catholic brethren. | AP

Marquette players bask in the moment of their victory over the Irish, whose defection from the Big East rankled their Catholic brethren. | AP

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Updated: April 4, 2013 6:54AM



MILWAUKEE — Marquette’s rangy athleticism and four-position quickness always give Notre Dame problems. Remove power forward Jack Cooley from the Irish mix, and it’s almost a ­mismatch.

With Cooley limited to 15 listless, scoreless minutes by flu-like symptoms, Marquette outslogged the Irish 72-64 on Saturday, delighting a senior day sellout crowd of 19,093 by closing out a perfect home season and stretching its Bradley Center winning streak to 25.

Center Chris Otule got in the senior day spirit of things by hitting all eight of his shots for 16 points. “He was really good,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “Chris changes the complexion of our team when he’s as dominant as he was today.”

Forward Jamil Wilson matched his career-high with 19 points as the Golden Eagles (21-7, 12-4 Big East) dominated on the front line, overcoming a 37-point, 11-assist performance by Notre Dame’s slick guard tandem of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

Forward Zach Auguste, a freshman with a baby face and an NBA body, gave the Irish 15 points, five rebounds and three steals, but its other big men were no more productive than Cooley as ND fell to 22-7, 10-6.

“You want to have Jack Cooley to go against Otule and Davante Gardner, and he wanted to give it a go, but he just wasn’t there. I wonder if we should have brought him on the trip,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Marquette played great. They made it hard for us to score.”

Marquette-Notre Dame has always been a highly charged rivalry. The schools attract a similar clientele — largely Midwest suburban Catholic kids — so it’s safe to assume every past, present and future Marquette student knows someone at Notre Dame, and vice versa.

But Notre Dame’s perceived haughtiness over a higher national profile and stronger academic reputation can stir resentment in the most level-headed Marquette types. So a victory over the Irish in anything is cause for celebration on a campus that embraces celebrating as part of the culture.

Saturday’s game came with some extra juice. Notre Dame’s defection from the Big East is viewed — rightly or wrongly — as the move that killed the conference, and the sense of abandonment was especially acute among its Catholic compadres. While the Atlantic Coast Conference offered the Irish a lovely new home for all non-football-related endeavors, the Catholic contingent has been scrambling to piece together a new alignment, the effort symbolic of a damaging every-man-for-himself ethos that’s pervasive in college athletics.

Meanwhile, ND has been somewhat coy about its nonconference scheduling plans once its ACC membership is official, so no one knows when (or if) the two teams will play again.

There’s also some intriguing cross-pollination between the schools. Larry Williams, Marquette’s second-year athletic director, is a Notre Dame graduate, an Irish football All-American who put himself through law school while playing in the NFL. A straightlaced former corporate lawyer, Williams firmly believes that student-athletes should be everything the title suggests.

“We will not cut corners,” he said.

Buzz Williams’ background is junior-college Texas. He’s not averse to taking ballplayers where he can find them. Jae Crowder was a junior-college nomad who was Big East Player of the Year for Marquette last season. He couldn’t have got into Notre Dame for a campus tour.

Marquette fans can only hope there’s a happy medium between the Williamses’ approach as Coach Buzz enhances his folk-hero stature on campus. His folksy ways mesh nicely with his .700 winning percentage, and a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament is all but assured by a victory that guarantees Marquette a top-four Big East finish and a double-bye into the conference tournament quarterfinals.

That’s an enticing reward for an effort-and-energy team with a short bench.

“Champions are everyday people,” Buzz Williams said. “We were 14-4 in the Big East last year, and we’re 12-4 this year. We’ve shown up every day. We’ve answered the bell. We’ve been accountable. I have been disappointed in our team’s attitude and effort zero times.”



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