What this year's Mastodon squad lacks in offensive skill, compared to last season's team, it more than makes up for in heart, according to coach Tony Jasick.
"Notre Dame was up 19 with 13:35 to go, and we have a pretty young team, and a lot of teams pack it in at that point, but our guys have a lot of fight in them," Jasick said.
IPFW asserted its athleticism early in the game, scoring three of their first four baskets on tip-ins. IPFW outperformed Notre Dame in steals, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, bench scoring and points off turnovers, and they turned the ball over less than the Irish.
But the Mastodons couldn't overcome their poor shooting, hitting just 36 percent from the field in the first half. They improved their accuracy to 41 percent in the second half but it wasn't enough to chip away at the deficit.
Each time IPFW seemed ready to spark a run with an explosive offensive play, Notre Dame answered at their end with one of their own.
Edwards' floater in the lane cut the lead to 28-21 with 4:35 to go in the first half. But then Grant responded with a 10-footer in the lane 38 seconds later.
"In the second half down the stretch, I felt like we were making a little bit of a run, and I felt like they made a number of shots at the end of the shot clock when we were playing pretty good defense," Jasick said.
Pat Connaughton had 18 points for Notre Dame, more than doubling his 7.9 points-per-game average, six rebounds and five assists.
"I think it was just a matter of playing the whole game," Connaughton said, referring to the quality rather than quantity of his minutes. "It's something I've been waiting to do. Attacking the basketball. It's something people have been harping on me to do, and it's something that's going to help the team."
Connaughton was 7 of 9 from the field, repeatedly driving strong to the hoop and taking his defenders off the dribble with apparent ease.
"That was the goal," said the 6-foot-5 sophomore who plays both guard and forward. "The easiest shots are nearest the basket. That's something I've always thought, and that's just something I needed to bring from practice to the game."
His finger roll in the lane off an assist by Jerian Grant made it 23-14 with 8:24 left in the first half.
He hit a layup while drawing a foul with 5 seconds left in the first half, then hit the free throw to increase Irish lead to 12.
"You're really between a rock and a hard place defending him," Jasick said. "If you don't help, the other guys get to the basket, and if you do stay and help, they are good at finding him."
Notre Dame (10-1) led 40-28 at halftime, then opened the second half with a 9-5 run over the first 4:21, capped by a two-handed stuff by Jack Cooley off a full-court fastbreak pass from Grant. The Irish extended their lead to 19 points on a layup by Garrick Sherman with 13:35 to play.
Cooley had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Scott Martin scored 13 points on 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.
Luis Jacobo and Joe Edwards both scored 11 points for the Mastodons (5-7).
IPFW shot 36 percent from the field while the Irish made 52 percent.
Martin got the Irish off to a fast start, hitting two of his first three 3-point attempts, both from the corner.