The team’s best player sat watching the final minutes despite only having three fouls as Notre Dame’s head coach Mike Brey elected to keep Cooley off the court. Brey’s decision is a questionable one which is made worse after the Fighting Irish watched their record fall to 2-2 in conference action and 14-3 overall.
Notre Dame’s best player was limited to only 18 minutes while managing to contribute 10 points, shooting 5 for 9 from the floor, along with five rebounds. With Cooley out of the game the Red Storm were able to gain a 12 point lead on their ranked opponents before the Fighting Irish came roaring back.
Notre Dame was able to make a run with Tom Knight on the floor in place of Cooley and Brey decided to keep Knight on the floor while being down only one point in the final two minutes. Knight, who entered the game averaging 1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds, was productive in his 17 minutes on the court. The 6-foot-10, 258lbs senior delivered six points, four blocks and three rebounds in the loss.
However, leaving Cooley and his double-double average of 15.1 points and 11.1 rebounds along with shooting 61.1% from the field is unacceptable. Cooley is not only Notre Dame’s best player, he is one of the conference’s best players and absolutely needs to be on the floor in the final minutes with his team trailing. Brey needs to have enough confidence in his senior to play smart enough to not take two fouls in two minutes. It had to be a confidence issue otherwise Brey must have been doing his best John Fox impression, playing conservative in order to try and win the close game in overtime.
Some people will argue the Fighting Irish were playing well with the five players they had on the court, so why change things? Show me a championship team that has left its best player on the bench in clutch situations? It doesn’t happen. No coach does that to their best player, especially not on the road and especially not after a loss to a team they already should have beat in the Connecticut Huskies. Besides, Cooley has only fouled out of two games this season and both resulted in losses for Notre Dame, which easily shows his importance of being on the court for the team to have success.
Brey’s decision to leave Knight on the floor was met with the exact result in should have been met with. Knight was alone underneath the rim with the ball and all he needed to do was raise his arms, hop up in the air a couple inches and drop the ball into the basket. The Fighting Irish would have had a one point lead with roughly a minute and a half remainining. What happened instead? The 6-foot-10 guy hesitated, most likely because he was confused why he had the ball under two minutes despite averaging only five minutes of game action all season, and then got blocked by the 6-foot-3 D’Angelo Harrison. Yes, the guy averaging 1.1 points was blocked by someone seven inches shorter than him. Shocker. Afterwards, the Red Storm gained possession of the ball and the late game foul routine started before St. John’s eventually closed out the victory.
When you leave the only player in the Big East averaging a double-double on the bench in a one point game, you deserve to lose. The Basketball Powers-That-Be made sure to prove why you put Cooley in the game by having Knight get blocked by Harrison.