PITTSBURGH – Someone sitting courtside at CONSOL Energy Center late Saturday night wondered aloud about it all when Notre Dame sophomore guard Steve Vasturia drove the lane and fumbled the basketball out of bounds.
The turnover gave it back to Butler with 45 seconds remaining in regulation of a tie game in NCAA tournament third-round action.
Why, the observer questioned for everyone to hear, would Irish coach Mike Brey decide to place possibly the fate of his team’s entire season in the hands of Vasturia, the team’s fifth-leading scorer?
That answer soon would surface.
Vasturia has the mental makeup that allows him to put a bad play behind him quickly, to eventually make a big-time play, which is exactly what he did – once again – to help send No. 3 seed Notre Dame (31-5) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 following a 67-64 overtime victory over No. 6 seed Butler (23-11).
Able to shake free of the turnover after three key Irish defensive stands forced the five-minute overtime session, Vasturia delivered in familiar fashion late in the extra session.
Notre Dame led by one with 1:22 remaining when Vasturia found himself in a familiar spot with a familiar shot. As senior guard Jerian Grant worked the shot clock under 10, Vasturia set up in the far corner opposite the Notre Dame bench and waited.
Grant probed the lane with a speed dribble toward the basket. That sucked Vasturia’s defender toward the lane. Grant then fired a rocket pocket pass to Vasturia – it him right in his waiting hands and sounded like a fastball pop into a catcher’s mitt. Vasturia delivered the 3 to bump the Irish up four.
“I saw the lane open and made a play,” Grant said. “When I drive like that and put it on the money to him, I know it’s going in.
“We needed a play like that.”
And they got one from Vasturia. Yep, the guy did it again. Just as he did earlier in the season when his same corner 3 in a late-clock situation helped Notre Dame beat Duke. Just as he did the previous week when his corner 3 helped kick-start the decisive lightning-strike explosion to beat North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Just another night’s work for the quiet, unassuming, let-me-do-my-job kid from Medford, N.J.
“Jerian got in the lane and I saw my defender lose track of me so I kind of moved over to the corner,” Vasturia said. “I was able to knock it down.”
It all unfolded in slow-motion for Vasturia, who stressed that it was just another sequence in a game full of them. He wasn’t worried about time and score. Wasn’t worried about what might have happened had he missed. Wasn’t concerned about even making the shot. It was just there. He just took it. It all just kind of happened.
“You’re just so locked into the game, I feel like it’s just another shot,” he said. “Once you knock it down, it’s a good feeling. You know you have to get back there and defend.
“It’s just hit another big shot.”
Vasturia has shown a knack for taking – and making – the corner 3s at big times. The only time he hadn’t connected came, ironically, in Pittsburgh in late January. In nearby Oakland, just up Fifth Avenue from CONSOL Energy Center, Vasturia had a late corner 3 to beat Pittsburgh but that one rolled around and halfway down before jumping out.
This was pure and nothing but net the minute it left his hand.
“When they have to focus on Demetrius (Jackson) and Jerian getting into the lane, they’re going to lose track of me in the corner,” Vasturia said. “I’m fine with moving to the open spot and having the opportunity to knock it down.”
Vasturia did a whole lot more Saturday than just make one shot. He added six rebounds and three steals while tying his career high with 20 points in a career-high 43 minutes.
“For him to guard just about everybody we asked and then get 20, he is so underrated and so unsung in our program,” Brey said. “I’m so thrilled he has two more years of eligibility left. He is such a winner.
“Our baby-faced assassin. He did it all.”