Atkins lifts Notre Dame men's basketball team over BC in OT

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND-A quick wave of regret washed over Notre Dame senior captain Eric Atkins in the closing seconds of overtime Saturday against Boston College.

With the score tied at 73 and the Irish caressing the last possession to either win it or move on to another five minutes, Atkins wanted the ball only in his hands. But when pressured by Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan, Atkins was forced to find freshman guard Demetrius Jackson.

The clock was quickly ticking away, and the Irish were nowhere near a scoring situation.

Atkins eventually got it back, dribbled between his legs and added a crossover before delivering some much-needed magic for the home team. His 3-pointer with two seconds remaining lifted the Irish to a 76-73 victory.

“I just knew that I wanted to take the last shot of the game and make sure that they really didn’t have another chance,” Atkins said. “When I first passed it, I got nervous. I needed to get it back right there.

“As soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in.”

When it did, it snapped a three-game ACC losing streak and gave Notre Dame its second win in the last 28 days. The Irish (12-10, 3-6) had lost six of their previous seven.

“To finally get this one is huge for us,” Atkins said.

Atkins’ effort marked the first time since March 19, 2009 that the Irish won on a last-second shot. Back then, guard Tory Jackson won a postseason National Invitation Tournament game against New Mexico on a runner, also with two seconds left.

“Heck of a win for us, man,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Much needed.”

Atkins all but carried the Irish to this one. He scored a game-high 24 points and played all 45 minutes. When Notre Dame needed to make something happen down one and 6.8 seconds left in regulation, it was up to Atkins. His speed dribble down the floor from the backcourt drifted left. Atkins then attempted a contested shot but drew a foul with 0.7 seconds remaining.

“I knew I got fouled,” Atkins said. “I was surprised they called it.”

A career 68.8 percent foul shooter, Atkins headed to the foul line. Make the first one, and he’d have a second. Miss the first and game over. Atkins connected on the first to tie it at 66. He missed the second, but nearly had his frantic flip shot fall before it was on to overtime.

Atkins felt he owed the Irish one. He had to be better. And then he was when the home team needed it.

“I felt like I let my team down not hitting that free throw,” Atkins said. “In overtime, especially coming down to that last shot, I knew it was going to be me.”

Like Atkins, fellow captain Pat Connaughton played all 45 minutes. Like Atkins, Connaughton’s effort was excellent. He scored 17 points and had a game-high nine rebounds. If that’s what it takes to finally win a game and feel good, Connaughton said, so be it.

Prior to Tuesday’s 15-point loss to Virginia, Notre Dame had lost its previous five league games by 29 total points.

“It feels better than you may think it does just because all the tough games we’ve had over the course of the season,” Connaughton said. “As a leader of this team, I preach it — ‘If you’re a winner, you’re going to win.’ It’s just a matter of staying with it and really staying together with your teammates.”

An Irish team that continues to search for an identity and a direction already halfway through their first ACC season may have found something and someone new to lean on in freshman V.J. Beachem. Unable to make many shots all season — Beachem entered Saturday shooting 18.8 percent from the field, 16.8 percent from 3 — the Fort Wayne native delivered a career-high 10 points on 4-of-8 from the floor.

“The guys had confidence in me,” Beachem said. “They kept looking for me even with my struggles in the past.”

His scoring spurt — all after halftime — included two key 3s. The second gave the Irish a 69-68 lead with 3:54 left in regulation. It was the first time Notre Dame had led since 23-21 way back in the first half.

“I just tried to keep my follow-through on it,” Beachem said. “It rattled around (but) when I let it go, I knew it had a chance.”

Notre Dame led by as many as four in overtime following a Zach Auguste bucket. But when Ryan Anderson scored twice — once on another inside bucket before two free throws — it was tied for the final time at 73 with 35.5 seconds remaining.

Having trailed by as many as nine points early in the second half in a game that featured nine ties and nine lead changes, Notre Dame looked headed for another tough-luck league loss. Still unable — or unwilling — to get that defensive stop at a key time, the Irish were down four with 58.2 seconds remaining following two Joe Rahon free throws.

An Atkins 3 with 48 seconds remaining made it a one-point game. A Garrick Sherman flip following two Lonnie Jackson free throws kept it at one with eight seconds left and set up the final Atkins sequence in regulation.

Notre Dame had a chance with the last shot after Hanlan missed the front end of a one-and-one.

“To the general population, it looked like it was going to be one of those games again where we’ve come close,” Connaughton said. “We’ve been through so many of those that we couldn’t let that get to us. We had to keep playing hard.”

Especially on defense, an area that continues to be a problem for an Irish team that cannot seem to get a stop in late-clock situations.

“We missed a few and I almost strangled seven or eight guys throughout,” Brey said. “We’re still not good enough in that area and I ain’t sugarcoating that.”

Boston College guard Alex Dragicevich, who spent his first two seasons at Notre Dame, finished with seven points. Dragicevich stuck a fade 3 in the far corner that put the Eagles up seven with 9:28 remaining. It was his last points of an afternoon that saw him booed every time he touched the ball.

“I don’t think it was circled on my calendar, but it was nice to see my family here,” said the native of nearby Northbrook, Ill. “It was not too much of an emotional experience for me.”

The end sure was for the Irish.

At Purcell Pavilion

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-15): Ryan Anderson 6-10 9-10 21, Lonnie Jackson 5-8 2-2 15, Olivier Hanlan 2-5 0-1 5, Alex Dragicevich 2-3 1-2 7, Joe Rahon 4-9 4-4 13, Garland Owens 1-2 0-0 2, Eddie Odio 1-3 2-2 4, Patrick Heckmann 2-7 2-3 6. Totals 23-47 20-24 73.

NOTRE DAME (12-10): Zach Auguste 4-8 2-6 10, Garrick Sherman 3-6 1-2 7, Eric Atkins 9-17 4-5 24, Pat Connaughton 6-12 1-1 17, Steve Vasturia 1-5 0-0 3, V.J. Beachem 4-8 0-0 10, Demetrius Jackson 1-6 1-1 3, Tom Knight 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-63 9-15 76.

Halftime — Boston College 29-26. End Of Regulation — Tied 66. 3-Point Goals — Boston College 7-21 (Jackson 3-6, Dragicevich 2-3, Hanlan 1-3, Rahon 1-3, Odio 0-1, Owens 0-1, Heckmann 0-4), Notre Dame 9-23 (Connaughton 4-9, Atkins 2-4, Beachem 2-5, Vasturia 1-4, Jackson 0-1). Fouled Out — Sherman. Rebounds — Boston College 27 (Anderson 6), Notre Dame 36 (Connaughton 9). Assists — Boston College 14 (Anderson, Jackson 3), Notre Dame 12 (Sherman 4). Total Fouls — Boston College 14, Notre Dame 15. A — 8,955.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson tries to shoot over Boston College's Alex Dragicevich, a former ND player, Saturday in the first half of their ACC men’s basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)