Paced by big men Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame has reason to feel confident heading into its first true test of the season.
Hoping to again showcase their powerful inside game, the No. 20 Irish face Saint Joseph's in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday night.
Notre Dame (2-0) coach Mike Brey expected the 6-foot-9 Cooley to be an offensive threat this season and hoped the 6-10 Sherman would provide a similar inside presence off the bench. Brey saw Monday how much of a force they can be when on the floor together at times.
Sherman posted career highs of 22 points and nine rebounds while Cooley added 16 points and nine boards in an 84-57 win over Monmouth.
The two players were the main reason the Irish owned a 40-20 scoring advantage in the paint and outrebounded the Hawks 42-24.
"That really helped us, just being able to pound away with two big guys,' Brey said. "This is so important for (Sherman) as we head to Brooklyn. That's a game that kind of makes him believe he's really part of it.'
A transfer from Michigan State, for which he started 29 games in two seasons, Sherman was much more of a factor Monday after recording three points and three boards in 15 minutes of a 58-49 win over Evansville on Saturday.
"I think I was a little too passive in the first game, trying to find my role,' Sherman said. "I owe it to Coach Brey and I owe it to this program to start playing better.
"It is a process. It will probably get easier as the season goes on."
In the meantime, Cooley has solidified himself as Notre Dame's top player with 35 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks. The senior is coming off a 2011-12 season in which he averaged career highs of 12.5 points and 8.9 boards but was the Irish's only real scoring threat inside.
This season, he appears to have help.
"(Sherman) is able to give us rebounds and points," Cooley told the Irish's official website. "It is huge for us to have two guys who can do that."
The Irish have reason to be excited as they head to Brooklyn as the only ranked team among the final four participants in this tournament. After facing Saint Joseph's (1-0) for the first time since a win in 1992, Notre Dame will play Florida State or BYU on Saturday.
"It will be cool," said swingman Pat Connaughton, who had 13 points and five assists against Monmouth. "It will also bring a little added intensity to the locker room because it's such a big event. I think it's just going to get us more hyped and ready for the game."
The Irish expect to be in for a serious challenge against Saint Joseph's, which qualified for the NIT last season and received votes in the first two AP polls of 2012-13.
Senior Langston Galloway had 20 points as the Hawks defeated Yale 61-35 on Monday. St. Joe's held the Bulldogs to 25.0 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.
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