A common basketball strategy is when a shooter gets hot get him the ball. That is what happened in the closing minute of the Big East Conference battle between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals. Louisville extended their lead to eight points with :50 left it the game and it appeared it was over for Notre Dame.
Jerian Grant, who had scored six points going into the final minute had other thoughts. Grant knocked down a three pointer cutting the Cardinals lead to five points with 44 seconds left in the game. Louisville responded making two free throws and Grant fought to get free and knocked down another three pointer with a hand in his face.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino told his team to get the ball into the hands of his playmaker Russ Smith, who knocked down both free throws extending the lead to six points with 33 seconds left in the game.
The Cardinals doubled team Grant on the next possession and it did not make a difference because Grant again knocked down a deep three pointer in the face of the double team with 28 seconds left.
Notre Dame needed a Louisville miss at the free throw line and Irish prayers were answered when Gorgui Deng missed both free throws setting the stage for Notre Dame to complete the impossible comeback.
The Irish got the ball to Grant who was doubled teamed again on the perimeter and this time drove then lane for what appeared to be a quick two point attempt and Louisville only complicated matters by fouling Grant and allowing him to tie the game with 21 seconds left.
Louisville had the last possession but was unable to convert and Notre Dame forced overtime with an amazing minute by Grant, who scored Notre Dame’s final 12 points in regulation forcing overtime at 60-60.
Notre Dame continued to battle in overtime and head coach Mike Brey needed a number of players to set up due to foul trouble by his starters. Jack Cooley finished with points fouled out with just under seven minutes left in the game. Tom Knight scored five points and fouled out late in the game. Grant whose heroics kept the team alive finished with 19 points despite fouling out in the first overtime.
Notre Dame needed a big man to step and Garrick Sherman played fantastic in the paint scoring a number of key baskets keeping the game alive throughout the five overtimes. Sherman finished the game 17 points despite not playing at all during regulation. Cameron Biedscheid and Zach Augeste both were key off the bench scoring 17 and eight points respectively. Biedscheid knocked down a key three pointer tying the game in the end of the third overtime.
While the bench was great in overtime, two of the starters who did not foul out amazed the crowd throughout the night. Eric Atkins did not lead the Irish in scoring but Atkins was the iron man for Mike Brey playing 60 minutes. Atkins was essential running the point for Notre Dame after Grant fouled out and he finished with 14 points, knocking down late free throws for the Irish.
Grant was not the only iron man for Notre Dame. Pat Connaughton played 56 minutes for the Irish and like Grant, Sherman, Biescheid and Atkins came up big for the Irish. Connaughton scored 16 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and dished out seven assists, three of which were in the fifth overtime.
Notre Dame played their longest game in the school’s history and Mike Brey had perhaps his best coaching performance of his career. The fans stormed the court and the Irish remain a tough opponent for anyone who comes into their building and this was just another example how anything can happen on Saturdays in South Bend.