Where was Jack Cooley?
That’s the question that every Notre Dame fan wants answered after the Irish lost their second straight game to an unranked opponent on Tuesday night, this one being a 67-63 defeat at the hands of St. John’s.
Cooley had struggled throughout the game, there’s no question about that. Steve Lavin made the adjustment to go small, leaving Chris Obekpa on the bench in favor of a lineup that featured Jakarr Sampson, Amir Garrett and Sir’Dominic Pointer — three athletes that can barely be considered power forwards.
Defensively, the Johnnies were able to fall back into a zone, using their length and athleticism to make it difficult for the Irish to get the ball into Cooley. On the offensive end of the floor, that smaller lineup forced Cooley to guard a much quicker player. The result? Sampson scored 14 of his 17 points in the first 20 minutes while Cooley picked up two fouls by the midway point of the half.
Cooley also picked up a quick foul in the second half, and on three straight possessions during one stretch, the all-Big East center shied away defensively. Those defensive lapses — that tentativeness brought on by the foul trouble — sparked a St. John’s run that pushed their lead to as much as 12.
Notre Dame fought back to take the lead with an 18-4 run, but after D’Angelo Harrison buried a 25-foot three, the Irish found themselves down 64-63 with less than a minute left on the clock. Eric Atkins — who was sensational yet again, finishing with 21 points, four assists and six steals — drove and dropped the ball off to Tom Knight under the rim for what looked like an open layup. But Knight was slow to get the shot off and ended up having his shot blocked against the backboard by Harrison.
Knight is a senior that’s playing 5.0 minutes per game this season. Cooley averages a double-double and is having the kind of season that would warrant all-america consideration.
So we have to ask:
Why was Cooley on the bench in the final minute?
Why was Knight on the floor?
Why was one of the Big East’s best big men watching as the third-string center was getting his shot pinned against the backboard by a 6-foot-3 jump-shooter?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.