MILWAUKEE – The history of Notre Dame vs. Marquette battles that included legendary coaches Digger Phelps and Al McGuire battling with All-Americans and national title implications may have ended with the most unlikely star in one-eyed unknown center Chris Otule. The Marquette center entered the game averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds and going up against Big East POY candidate Jack Cooley (14 ppg, 11 rpg), and using his 6-11, 275-pound frame and 7-6 wingspan to outscore Cooley 19 points to none.
Since being an unknown recruit out of high school, Otule has become an excellent shot-blocker and defender, but due to trouble catching passes due to depth perception issues he is usually replaced by Davante Gardner when points are needed. He was born with only one eye, and has a glass eye and wears goggles to protect his good eye. In 2011, Notre Dame’s recruit Eric Katenda could not compete due to losing vision in his left eye, but Otule was able to adapt since he always only had use of one eye.
The game plan to repeatedly lob the ball into Otule and let him overpower the 6-9, 245-pound Cooley caught Notre Dame so off guard, that coach Mike Brey had to use four of his five timeouts by the 4:56 mark and finally simply sit Cooley for 25 of 40 minutes as Otule hit all eight of his shots to score his career high 19 points and shut out Otule.
No. 22 Marquette surged to a 37-21 lead behind Otule’s dominance, and that was enough to survive a strong second half performance by No. 21 Notre Dame for a 72-64 win that put them into a two-way tie for second place Louisville, which won at No. 12 Syracuse 58-53. Georgetown needs to win Saturday night against Rutgers to stay a game ahead in first place – an Rutgers upset would force a three-way tie for tops of the Big East.
Brey, who coached Notre Dame back from a 19-3 deficit at Pitt this season, once again found a solution, but a little too late. He inserted 6-10 freshman Zack Augustine, who score 15 points off the bench as part of a Notre Dame push to get the game back to single digits as the crowd here grew tense.
With him inside, Notre Dame won the rebounding battle and Jerian Grant, out of an NBA family, grabbed seven rebounds and hit three three-pointers en route to 21 points, and teamed up with lightning fast backcourt mate Eric Atkins for five steals.
Jamil Wilson came of the bench for Marquette to score his own career high 16 points, and his 6 of 10 from the floor match Marquette’s redhot 60% from the floor as a team to offset Notre Dame’s 30-22 rebounding edge.
The game was senior night for Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan and shooting guard Trent Lockett, who tied with a team-high four assists each to make their senior night successful in front of a sold out 19.093 fans.