By Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:33 PM EST, March 2, 2013
MILWAUKEE — Jack Cooley was flat on his back on the Bradley Center floor during warm-ups, and this was not nearly as laid out as Notre Dame's center had been lately. A flu bug ransacked him. He spent Thursday in the health center. He spent Friday receiving intravenous fluids.
Commendably, Cooley clambered to his feet and attempted to contribute something in the din against Marquette and the force of its 24-game home winning streak. He wasn't the only one left queasy by the end of it, wondering whether it was worth the trip.
A clinical thrashing for 30 minutes provided the No. 22 Golden Eagles sufficient cushion to stymie renewed Irish energy and efficiency in the stretch, leading to a 72-64 triumph that collected Marquette a double-bye in the upcoming Big East tournament. Notre Dame and Cooley, meanwhile, were left to collect themselves.
The All-Big East center played a season-low 15 minutes and went scoreless for the first time since Nov. 22, 2011. The No. 21 Irish (22-7, 10-6 Big East) wound up carved up inside by Marquette's Chris Otule — 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting — and never found balance defensively, allowing 59.6 percent shooting overall.
"It has been rough the last couple of days," Cooley said. "In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have played. But you have to go out and give it your best. I didn't think I'd be that tired, but the doctors said I would be. And that's just what happened."
Stomach disruption prevented Cooley from taking the practice floor Thursday or Friday. Mike Brey figured he could have added a weekend off.
"I wonder if I should have even brought him on this trip," said the Irish coach, whose team was led by Jerian Grant's 21 points. "He's our warrior, man. When your main guy says he's OK to go, you have to give him a chance to sweat it out."
Still, it was a sick effort in its own right at the start against Marquette (21-7, 12-4).
The Golden Eagles stormed to first-half leads of 18-6 and 37-21, shooting 64.3 percent before intermission and recording assists on 20 of 28 field goals overall. Animated defense also forced nine first-half turnovers, and a 15-point second-half lead stood up to assorted Irish bursts that cut it to single digits.
So Marquette, picked to finish seventh in preseason Big East polling, raced to validation.
"We had the double-bye last year and then peed on ourselves when we showed up," coach Buzz Williams said. "I hope we can do better. My point is, the double-bye says you were accountable for your work from Jan. 1 through March 13. That's really hard to do, because it's a grind."
Still angling for postseason positioning, the Irish must get better for St. John's visit Tuesday. That starts with getting Cooley well.
"That's like our horse inside," Irish guard Eric Atkins said. "Today, he wasn't there for us. It made it a little different."