Notre Dame reaches program’s third Sweet 16 with overtime win over Butler
Zach Klonsinski | Monday, March 23, 2015
PITTSBURGH — Forty minutes were not enough Saturday night and Sunday morning, but when the dust settled, the Irish had clinched a slot in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, defeating Butler in overtime, 67-64, at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“This is great that we’ve gotten back to this territory, and we’d like to go further,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I think it’s really powerful for our program. When you put together an ACC championship and with a Sweet 16 run, extremely powerful.”
Senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton came up with a huge block at the end of regulation, and fellow senior guard Jerian Grant sealed the game on a drive as the shot clock expired to help the third-seeded Irish (31-5, 14-4 ACC) escape a challenge from the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (23-11, 12-6 Big East).
Junior forward Zach Auguste was called for a double dribble with two seconds remaining and the score tied at 55, giving Butler the ball on its offensive side of the court with a chance to win the game.
Bulldogs junior guard Kellen Durham, who lead the team in scoring this season, received the inbounds pass and threw up a shot from the corner, but Connaughton seemingly rose out of nowhere to swat the ball into the stands to end regulation.
“We had made a few mistakes up to that point, and there were some guys who were frustrated by the mistakes we made,” Connaughton said of the lead up to his swat. “But I said to them, ‘Hey, that’s dead and gone. There’s nothing we can do about the mistakes we made. The beautiful thing about it is, we have complete control over the outcome of this game.
“To be able to get that stop on the defensive end to send us into overtime and end up sending us to the Sweet 16 is something that I’m very proud of these guys for.”
“We’re going to overtime to win this game,” Grant said of what he was thinking when Connaughton swatted the ball away. “It was a big play our captain made, and now, we can go win it in overtime.”
With the Irish leading, 65-62, Grant knifed his way through the Bulldog defense and laid the ball in off the glass to give Notre Dame the five-point lead with 18 seconds remaining in overtime.
“I feel like, on this team, I’m the guy that can make those plays,” Grant said of wanting the ball in his hands late. “We have a bunch of playmakers on this team, but down the stretch, I feel like I really want the ball, and the guys tell me to go get it, and when that happens, it gives you a lot of confidence to make a play.”
The Irish have been led by huge plays from their seniors all season, so it came as no surprise to the team that they made clutch plays with the season on the line, Brey said.
“Jerian and Pat have set a great tone with keeping us hungry,” Brey said.
The game was particularly poignant for Irish head coach Mike Brey, who has faced criticism for his teams’ lack of success in the NCAA tournament. Yet there was an additional emotional tug for Brey on Saturday night:
His mother, Betty Brey, passed away Saturday morning from a heart attack at the age of 84.
“Someone asked me, ‘Did you ever think about not coaching the game?’ Absolutely not,” Brey said. “My brother said, ‘Dad’s great. We’ve him over at the house; everything’s good. You get your ass up there and beat Butler. We’re all watching.’”
“The strength that he had to have had to go through it without mentioning it, without acting like it, he hadn’t skipped a beat,” Connaughton said. “I just hope he knows this team is here for him. He’s been here for Jerian and myself countless times in our past, and I hope he knows that’s something we’ll cherish.”
The Irish pulled out to an early 22-12 lead with 7:47 remaining in the first half, but the Bulldogs went on a 15-5 run to draw the game even at 27. Behind a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame returned to the locker room up two, 31-29. Vasturia finished with a team-high 20 points.
“It’s a great feeling. We’re playing really well right now,” Vasturia said. “We made big plays down the stretch, and we’ve been that all year, getting big defensive stops, hitting shots. So it’s a great feeling.”
“It’s been an eye-opening experience for people who haven’t seen him day in and day out,” Connaughton said of Vasturia’s recent breakout offensive performances. “He’s a rock. He’s a guy that I want to step into my place when I leave and do things that I haven’t done.”
“For [Vasturia] to guard just about everybody we ask and then get 20, he is so underrated and so unsung in our program,” Brey said. “I’m so thrilled he has two years of eligibility left. He is such a winner.”
Bulldogs junior forward Roosevelt Jones led all scorers with 23 points, and sophomore forward Andrew Chrabascz chipped in another 20 for Butler, which led by as much as six midway through the second half.
The Irish used an 8-0 run in a span of 2:31 to seize control again, 49-47. The teams traded the lead back and forth until a 3-pointer from Dunham drew the Bulldogs even at 55 with 2:58 left in the second half, the final score of regulation. The Irish took the first lead in overtime on a pair of Vasturia free throws and never trailed again.
After the game, the Irish were notably calm and composed after clinching a spot in the Sweet 16 despite the heart-pounding victory.
“I am really excited,” sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson said after a reporter said he didn’t look the part. “It’s just hard for me to process it all. I’ve never done this before, so just to be here, to play with this team, to win with this team and just be able to continue to play is very special for us.
“ … We just know how good this team is and how far we can go.”
“We were all clapping for each other, we were all excited,” sophomore forward Austin Torres said of the locker room when the team got back. “We kept it down though because we expect this. We expected to win. We’ve got greater expectations. We just won the Pittsburgh tournament; now it’s on to the Cleveland tournament.”
The Irish will travel to Cleveland next week for a contest against seventh-seeded Wichita State. The game will tip at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, and the winner will earn a spot in the Elite Eight.