PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe Notre Dame should be called the
No one predicted this run of success over the past month from
Notre Dame -- or this stunning comeback. Down 20 on the road at
Villanova, the Irish buried 3 after 3 to pull off perhaps their
most astounding victory yet.
"Jeremy Lin and the Irish," coach Mike Brey said. "Believe
Pat Connaughton scored 21 points, Jack Cooley had 18 points and
13 rebounds, and Notre Dame (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) erased a 20-point deficit in a
74-70 overtime victory over Villanova on Saturday night.
Eric Atkins scored 17 points to help the Irish (19-8, 11-3 Big
East) win their eighth straight game. They made nine of their 12
3-pointers after halftime to send Villanova to its fifth loss in
"It's a great win for a group that really believes in itself,"
Notre Dame caught fire even after losing star Tim Abromaitis for
the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The Irish suffered a 20-point loss to Gonzaga in November as part
of a stretch of four losses in five games.
Brey joked after that rough patch that he thought Notre Dame
would be "having a parade" if they pulled of a NIT bid.
Look at the Irish now.
Of course, the rally was aided by a collapse from one of the
worst teams in the Big East.
The Wildcats (11-15, 4-10) got a second chance after squandering
the massive lead on Maurice Sutton's tying bucket late in
regulation. They didn't have enough in OT.
Jerian Grant put the Irish ahead 68-65 on a 3-pointer with 1:28
left and Connaughton hit his seventh 3 with 45.9 seconds to go for
a six-point lead.
The Irish survived 38-percent shooting from the floor.
"It's a confidence thing now," Connaughton said.
JayVaughn Pinkston scored 24 points, Dom Cheek had 19, and
Sutton had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. Leading
scorer Maalik Wayns sat out with a sprained MCL in his left knee
and guard James Bell was out with a sprained left ankle.
"I'm proud of the effort," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I
think we're getting better defensively. I don't want to be
negative. I'm optimistic about this team, about the future of our
Down two starters, the Wildcats were at their best in the first
half and led 39-19.
Not for long.
The Irish stormed back against a Villanova team that made only
five baskets in the second half. The fifth one was a big one.
Sutton put back Ty Johnson's miss with 0.9 seconds to tie the game
at 60 and send it to overtime.
The Wildcats never should have let it come to the last shot of
regulation. They committed turnovers on three straight possessions
in the final minutes and Notre Dame pounced.
Villanova's ninth turnover led to an Irish bucket for a 56-51
lead. Wright called a timeout on the next possession but the
Wildcats had a shot-clock violation.
Connaughton buried a 3 to make it 56-54. Again the Wildcats
turned the ball over, this time on a travel.
Atkins gave them a 57-56 lead on a three-point play before Grant
hit a 3 for a sudden four-point lead, and the Notre Dame faithful,
silenced all night, burst into a "Let's go Irish!" chant.
The Wildcats went more than 7 minutes without a basket until
Sutton tied it.
"It happened so fast, I couldn't even tell you what happened,"
Connaughton and Pinkston exchanged 3s in OT to make it 65-65,
and the Irish still had big buckets left in them.
The Wildcats could have used this kind of first-half play
starting two months ago. They scored the first 13 points of a 28-5
run that put them up 20.
Pinkston and Cheek hit consecutive 3s during that run and the
Wildcats shot 50 percent from the floor for most of the half. Led
by Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova punished them on the boards, too,
outrebounding the Irish 22-8. Yarou finished with 11 rebounds.
Villanova led 39-23 at halftime before the Irish pulled off
their own version of Lin-sanity.
"I think they're special. I really do," Brey said.
Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr., who averaged 15.8 points in 13 games before being injured last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft.
Isaiah Briscoe has decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and will return to Kentucky for his sophomore season. Marcus Lee intends to transfer.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge will again feature Kansas and Kentucky, this time at Rupp Arena. That's not the only exciting matchup in next season's midseason conference showdown.