Extra time proves the right time for Notre Dame
Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, March 24, 2015
With all the close games Notre Dame has played this season, it’s no surprise the Irish are well acquainted with overtime.
The Irish (31-5, 14-4 ACC) have finished the 40-minute regulation period tied four times this season. All four of those games have resulted in victories.
Notre Dame’s latest meeting with overtime came Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, where the Irish defeated Butler, 67-64, in NCAA tournament third-round action.
This time, the overtime came after a flurry of late-game activity, even though neither the third-seeded Irish nor the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (23-11, 12-6 Big East) scored for the last 2:58 of regulation. Notre Dame junior forward Zach Auguste snared a rebound with five seconds left, but double-dribbled to give the ball right back to Butler with two seconds remaining. The Bulldogs inbounded the ball to junior guard Kellen Dunham, who launched a corner 3-pointer, but his attempt was swatted away by Irish senior guard Pat Connaughton as time expired.
Notre Dame sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson said the team gained some confidence as the game went into an extra five-minute period.
“[I was thinking], ‘How can we win?” he said. “I was a little nervous, but we’ve been in those situations before where we have to get a stop with our defense.
“Then when we get into overtime, I don’t think we’ve lost an overtime game this year … We really feel like that’s our time.”
It had been the time for the Irish before. Notre Dame topped a pair of teams now also in the Sweet 16 in overtime, defeating Michigan State, 79-78, on Dec. 3 and North Carolina State, 81-78, on Jan. 25. The Irish needed 10 extra minutes to beat Georgia Tech on Jan. 3, earning an 83-76 win over the Yellow Jackets in double overtime.
While four games might be too small of a sample size to say that the Irish are a great overtime team, the team’s success in the extra period mirrors its mentality of “survive and advance,” according to Connaughton.
“I compare [overtime] to having a second chance at life; it’s a little less drastic than that, however, when you get that second chance, you’re going to do anything to survive and advance,” he said. “When you get into overtime, a lot of times you feel like you didn’t make the plays you needed to win in the first 40 minutes, so you get a second wind, like we have another chance to prove that we’re not going to go home tonight.”
Connaughton was firmly intent on making sure his college basketball career didn’t come to a close, but he said he first needed to make sure Auguste, who had committed the potentially costly turnover in the game’s waning seconds, was ready to play on for a few more minutes.
“I pulled [Auguste] aside [after regulation], and I said, ‘Look, no matter what happens, I’m going to have the utmost faith that you’re going to come back and do something important for this team,’” Connaughton said. “If you look at it, he had three massive rebounds in overtime that helped seal the deal.”
Auguste wasn’t the only Irish player seeking and later finding redemption in overtime Saturday. Connaughton, who had missed all five of his attempts from beyond the 3-point line on the day, sunk a 3-pointer with 3:08 left in overtime to break a 59-59 tie.
“We knew he was coming; he had struggled kind of all game,” Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant said of Connaughton. “But eventually, he was going to make it happen, and he did.”
Irish sophomore guard Steve Vasturia, who had turned the ball over with 45 seconds left in regulation, helped ice the game with a 3-pointer to make it 65-61 with 1:22 left, a play Connaughton said was reminiscent of Vasturia’s late 3-pointer to seal an Irish victory over Duke on Jan. 28 at Purcell Pavilion.
“I said to [Vasturia], ‘Look, it’s going to come back around. You’ve hit some daggers of shots, and it’s going to come back around. Be ready to shoot,’” he said. “Steve’s one of the toughest kids I know … he’s one of the most competitive kids I know and when you add those things together, there’s only success that can come out of it when you put all that you’ve got on the line.”
As the Irish prepare to face seventh-seeded Wichita State in the Sweet 16 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Thursday, the prospect of another overtime might not be far-fetched. But the Irish feel they are prepared for whatever happens because of the team’s calm nature, Grant said.
“We really don’t have a roller coaster [of highs and lows],” he said. “We’ve been in games like [Saturday night’s] all season. We really still stay even-keeled, and it shows.”