Atkins pushes Irish past BC with last-second three-pointer
Sam Gans | Saturday, February 1, 2014
With his team tied at 73 as the clock wound down in overtime against Boston College on Saturday afternoon, Eric Atkins had the ball in his hands and redemption on his mind.Minutes earlier, the Irish senior guard and captain had a chance to win the game. Down 66-65, Atkins drew a foul with 0.7 seconds left in regulation and went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. He made the first free throw but missed the second and the potential game-winning put-back attempt.
“I felt like I let my team down [by] not hitting that free throw,” Atkins said. “So in overtime, especially coming down to that last shot, I knew it was going to be me.”
Atkins nailed a 3-point attempt with 0.8 seconds remaining in the game to snap Notre Dame’s three-game losing streak and give the Irish (12-10, 3-6 ACC) a much-needed 76-73 victory over the Eagles (6-15, 2-6) in Purcell Pavilion.
“I just knew that I wanted to take the last shot of the game and make sure that they really didn’t have another chance,” Atkins said. “When I got it, I just rocked [the defender] a little bit, went between my legs. And then when he went for the crossover, I really had a clean look at it and as soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in.”
The Irish had to mount a second-half rally to get in position to force overtime. Up 29-26 at halftime, the Eagles began the second half on a 6-0 run to open a 35-26 lead before Notre Dame used a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 37-36.
“When you’re down nine or 10 early in the second half, I think you’re at a crossroads a little bit,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “But I thought what helped us offensively was we went smaller like we did in the Duke game and just started ball-screening for Eric and let him make plays for us.”But Boston College again began to take control of the game. The Eagles went up 45-38 with 9:31 left in regulation after former Irish guard redshirt junior Alex Dragicevich drilled a 3-pointer for Boston College. The transfer ended the game with seven points and endured a plethora of boos from the Irish faithful each time he touched the ball.
The Irish then used a breakout performance from freshman forward V.J. Beachem to come back. Beachem scored seven points in a 4:18 span, including a layup with 2:59 remaining in regulation to tie the game at 60.
“My teammates have a lot of confidence in me, especially the older guys like [senior center] Garrick [Sherman] and Eric,” Beachem said. “I know if I’m open — even when I was missing when I was open — they were still hitting me, expecting me to be able to knock those shots down, and to be able to hit them today was really big.”
The freshman also tallied Notre Dame’s first points of the extra session on a 3-pointer to give the Irish a 69-68 advantage, their first lead since the first half. His 10 points were a career high.
“Big night for V.J. Beachem; we’ve been waiting for this,” Brey said. “It was only a matter of time, only a matter of time with V.J. I think he’s kind of joined the club now. Huge minutes for him and he made big shots for us.”
Boston College gained a 64-60 lead with 57 seconds remaining in regulation before an Atkins 3-pointer made the score 64-63 with 48 seconds left. Eagles junior guard Lonnie Jackson scored two of his 15 points on a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left before Sherman cut the deficit to one again with 7.8 seconds left. Eagles sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan then missed the front-end of a one-and-one before Atkins sent the game to overtime with his free throw on the other end.
In overtime, the Irish gained a 73-69 lead before Boston College scored four unanswered points to tie the game with 35.5 seconds remaining and set the stage for Atkins’ heroics.
After scoring just four points in the first half on 1-for-5 shooting, Atkins finished the night 9-for-17 for 24 points. Irish junior forward Pat Connaughton contributed 17 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore forward Zach Auguste added 10 points and eight boards.
The Irish next head to Syracuse for a Monday night matchup with the No. 2 Orange (21-0, 8-0) at 7 p.m. The Orange are coming off a 91-89 overtime home win over No. 17 Duke on Saturday night, and the Irish are winless in their last three games in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse is also one of just two remaining undefeated teams in Division I and will likely move into the top slot when the new national rankings are released Monday morning after No. 1 Arizona’s 60-58 upset loss to Cal on Saturday night.
“What a great opportunity,” Brey said. “We won’t have much of a shot in there — maybe they’ll be No. 1 in the country — but I sure like going to Syracuse and competing Monday night after what happened this afternoon than the alternative or what could have happened and not getting [the win]. So I think we’ll go up there with a positive frame of mind with nothing to lose and let it rip.”
Contact Sam Gans at email@example.com