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It took Matt Mooney about three minutes to dispel any notion Notre Dame would struggle in the giddy aftermath of its emotional victory over previously undefeated Marist from Friday night.
The senior Air Force-recruit nailed three three-pointers during a stunning opening burst as the No. 12 Dons jumped out to a 17-2 advantage in gliding past Crane 61-48 at the Team Rose Shootout at the Kroc Center on Saturday.
Mooney scored a team-best 21 points and converted four three-pointers as Notre Dame (8-1) led by as many as 22 points. Justin Halloran also hit four three-pointers in contributing 12 points. He scored nine points in the first half.
Mooney drilled back-to-back three-pointers, the second from NBA-range, in scoring 11 of the Dons’ first 14 points. Crane coach Kenny Pratt was forced to burn two timeouts in the first four minutes to slow the Dons’ attack.
“I actually started out pretty slow last night [in the Dons’ victory over Marist], so I wanted to come out strong,” Mooney said. “I hit my first few shots and I just felt good.” He said the team was ready from the gun and had little difficulty.
“We like playing games, and we don’t get too many opportunities to play around here, and it was a great environment,” he said.
Crane sophomore guard Issaiah Hayes willed the Cougars back into the game. The willowy sophomore guard scored the Cougars’ first seven points and keyed an 11-2 run that pulled the Cougars (0-2) within 19-13 after the first quarter.
Taking over for Mooney, senior forward and sixth-man Duante Stephens took charge in the second quarter that repelled the Cougars’ move. He scored 11 of the Dons’ first 13 points of the second quarter as Notre Dame held Crane scoreless for the opening 4:57 of the second quarter in seizing a 35-19 lead at the break.
“We have a sixth-man rotation and anybody can come in,” said Stephens, who finished with 15 points. “Everybody knows we’re a good shooting team, and that allowed me to come in and go hard to the basket and get free in transition,” he said.
Hayes scored a game-high 27 points on an array of jump shots and drives. “He’s good, and he got hot and that helped them get that early run,” Notre Dame coach Tom Les said. “I thought we did a pretty job of guarding him.
“We know that we’re a good shooting team, but we have to be able to play defense because you’re not always going to make shots. I thought after our hot start, we kind of settled down and eased up a bit, but then defensively, we really picked it up.”