SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is OK with where his Fighting Irish are heading into the Big East part of the season.
Tim Abromaitis had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Notre Dame (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) to a 93-53 victory over winless Maryland-Baltimore County on Wednesday night in their latest tuneup for conference play.Scott Martin added 15 points -- his 10th straight game in double figures -- for the Irish (11-1), while Carleton Scott added 12 and Ben Hansbrough 10."I told the guys in the locker room that I was very proud of what we have accomplished so far as we head into Big East play," Brey said. "I think we have maxxed our experience out in preseason. We have some things to work on including our rebounding, defending ball screens, and defending the lane, but this group is very mature and is able to stay in character."It is the best start for the Irish since 2006-07 when they opened 13-1.Notre Dame had 22 assists on 32 field goals.It was the second double-double of the season for Abromaitis and the third in his career. He equaled a career high in rebounds."Tonight he was a little loose with the ball," Brey said of Abromaitis, "but he has improved as a passer and his rebounding has really helped us. He is flying to both backboards and we are going to have to rebound as a team to get through the Big East."Notre Dame begins play in the Big East on Tuesday at home against Georgetown (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP).Retrievers coach Randy Monroe, whose team fell to 0-12 despite 15 points from Chris De La Rosa, said that Notre Dame plays as well collectively as a team as any he has seen."They are fun to watch play," he said. "They are really more fun to watch on TV than to coach against, but this is the kind of play you want each and every team you coach to play like. It is hard to coach against five guys who play as solidly Notre Dame does."Brey gave much of the credit for the cohesiveness to his five senior starters."There is a lot of peer pressure to stay on the island," he said. "No one has jumped off the island and [played selfishly] yet. We are heading into the tough stuff now but our ability to stay in character and move the ball around is key to how well we do in the Big East."Brey also gave credit to freshman point guard Eric Atkins, who had nine points and four assists in 22 minutes."I think he is as ready as he can be to jump into the ocean that is Big East basketball," Brey said. "He plays with great confidence and he knows he is a key player."The Irish were 10 of 29 from beyond the arc, the fifth time this season they have notched 10 or more 3s.Jamar Wertz added 11 points for UMBC.Notre Dame got off to a sluggish start and was in an 8-8 tie with 16:20 to go in the first half before a 3-pointer by Scott started a 14-4 run that made it 22-12 with 11:12 left. The Irish continued to pull away, combining a more intense defensive effort with crisp passing to take a 48-29 halftime lead.Abromaitis had 14 points and Martin added in the half as the Irish shot 59 percent from the field while UMBC was at 45 percent. Abromaitis had nine rebounds in the first, one fewer than UMBC as Notre Dame held a 20-10 advantage on the boards.