SOUTH BEND - A pocket mirror was produced during a second-half break to help find a contact lens that had rolled up in his left eye.
The gym later fell scary silent after he dropped hard to the floor on a driving layup, and experienced a muscle cramp - a first he insists in his basketball life - in his right calf.
Regardless of any adversity, Notre Dame sophomore guard Eric Atkins continued to do all he could to make certain Saturday’s season opener against Mississippi Valley State was a success.
Atkins scored a career- and game-high 27 points with six assists and four rebounds to lead the Irish to an 80-67 victory. He connected on 6-of-7 shots from the floor, made all three 3-pointers and added a perfect dozen free throws as Notre Dame (1-0) stretched its Purcell Pavilion win streak to 20 in row.
“My teammates just found me today,” Atkins said. “I started early being aggressive and it just went good from there. It’s just good that we came out with the win.”
Atkins didn’t wait long to get going. He made the game’s first basket - a 3-pointer from the wing - 30 seconds after the tip. Once that shot fell, it was as if the rim expanded five-fold.
“When the first jumper goes down, you don’t think you’re going to miss again,” said Atkins, whose lone miss was a blocked layup. “Once I saw that go down, I just told myself to keep shooting.”
Irish co-captain Scott Martin added 15 points and five rebounds. A sprained right ankle suffered last month on the first day of practice limited Martin’s practice time. He returned to workouts only two days prior to Saturday, when he logged 34 minutes.
How did he feel in finally cutting it loose?
“A little out of shape, to be honest,” Martin said. “I was on the (stationary) bike every day but there’s only so much cardio you can get on the bike.
“I’ll get going as the week goes and get my wind a little bit better.”
Sensing he had to do more with Martin on the slow track back and main man Tim Abromaitis sidelined for the regular season’s first four games for an NCAA violation that occurred during his sophomore year, Atkins delivered in ways few thought possible. When the offense bogged down and Notre Dame needed someone to do something, it was the point guard who produced big buckets, big drives, big points. He scored eight consecutive points - six on free throws - late in a first half that saw him finish with 16 - one better than his career best.
“He took the pressure off everybody else,” Martin said.
“It shocked me a little bit,” Mississippi Valley State coach Sean Woods said of Atkins’ effort. “But it’s his turn now. It’s his year. He kind of set the tone for his team, letting his coaches know that, ‘I’m here for you.’”
Woods was ejected after picking up two technical fouls with 6:10 to play. Upset that no foul was called on an Irish defender who he felt had climbed the back of his player for a rebound, Woods voiced his displeasure and picked up a technical foul (by design). Woods then removed his suit coat and fired it toward his assistant. It instead, went into the stands and hit his cousin (not by design). That earned Woods an early exit.
Woods said afterward that while he had wanted a foul called on Notre Dame in the sequence, he also wanted his guys to understand not to let their intensity slip, if only for a moment, when in a difficult situation on the road.
“I will fight for them and they know that,” Woods said. “That’s all I was doing, just fighting for my guys. I’m pleased with the effort my guys had.”
Four Delta Devils scored double figures, including 14 points each from Kevin Burwell and Terrence Joyner.
Prior to Woods’ walk on the wild side, the Irish had been handed all they could handle. Notre Dame led by only seven with just over seven minutes to play. The Irish often had trouble guarding the Delta Devils in the low post (the visitors finished with 34 points in the paint) and stopping anyone off the dribble. There were times when the Irish had to go to their “five-out” patient plan on offense just to slow down the opposition.
Notre Dame seldom looked like last year’s outfit that had won 27 games. And that’s OK with coach Mike Brey. It all goes back to this season’s plan of patience in the process and of getting more out of a new group that includes Atkins, Joey Brooks (nine points, four rebounds, three assists), Alex Dragicevich (seven points, four rebounds, two assists) and Jerian Grant (11 points, five assists, two rebounds).
“I’m very pleased that this team, this group, still trying to find itself, had to get through some tough stuff to win a game,” Brey said. “We had a lot of different guys make plays for us when we had game pressure on us.”
A lot more awaits, starting Monday at home against Detroit at 9 p.m.
MVSU (67): Amos Studivant 6-9 0-0 12, Falando Jones 5-11 2-3 13, Paul Crosby 3-9 0-0 7, Terrence Joyner 5-15 1-5 14, Kevin Burwell 6-9 0-0 14, Luka Pajkovic 0-0 0-0 0, Brent Arrington 1-2 0-0 3, Cor-J Cox 2-7 0-0 4, Blake Ralling 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-63 3-8 67.
NOTRE DAME (80): Jack Cooley 0-5 3-4 3, Eric Atkins 6-7 12-12 27, Scott Martin 6-14 1-2 15, Jerian Grant 4-7 1-1 11, Joey Brooks 3-6 2-4 9, Patrick Crowley 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Dragicevich 2-7 3-4 7, Pat Connaughton 0-4 2-2 2, Tom Knight 0-0 0-0 0, Mike Broghammer 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 24-54 24-29 80.
Halftime - Notre Dame 38-30. 3-Point Goals - MVSU 8-23 (Joyner 3-10, Burwell 2-4, Jones 1-2, Arrington 1-2, Crosy 1-3, Ralling 0-1, Cox 0-1), Notre Dame 8-19 (Atkins 3-3, Grant 2-3, Martin 2-6, Brooks 1-2, Connaughton 0-2, Dragicevich 0-3). Fouled Out - Jones. Rebounds - MVSU 30 (Joyner 9), Notre Dame 39 (Cooley 10). Assists - MVSU 16 (Joyner 5), Notre Dame 19 (Atkins 6). Total Fouls - MVSU 23, Notre Dame 12. Technicals - MVSU Bench 2. A - 7,087.
Staff writer Tom Noie: