Irish hoops finds double-overtime answer
ND overcomes inconsistency to outlast Georgia Tech in 2 OTs
SOUTH BEND – Tested time and again during its first Atlantic Coast Conference run last winter, Notre Dame often failed to offer many answers.
The No. 14 Irish had one this time, and overtime and overtime again, Saturday at home against Georgia Tech.
Dropped into a big hole early and forced to scramble for any semblance of consistency the rest of the way, Notre Dame overcame missed free throws, withstood a rebounding pounding and found a way to make big plays when it mattered for an 83-76 double-overtime, men's basketball victory.
“It’s those tough plays,” senior Pat Connaughton said. “There were times last year where we were down and maybe would have folded. This game was something we really needed.
“We showed we’re a tough team and can win tough games.”
The win bumped the Irish to 14-1 overall, one win shy from last season’s total (15). It also boosted Notre Dame to 2-0 in the ACC.
Notre Dame has won eight of its last nine overtime games, including both this season.
“We’re on a great run there,” coach Mike Brey said.
The Irish had won their previous 11 home games by an average of 28.2 points. They often led by 20 points, by 30 and even by 40 in their place the first seven weeks of the season. But nothing was going to come easily early or late against a Georgia Tech team that grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and finished with a plus-15 advantage on the backboard.
“We were able to take a few punches,” said sophomore guard Steve Vasturia.
How about a few dozen?
“We took a lot,” Vasturia said. “But we did a good job bouncing back from there, and that’s the most important thing.”
Riding the wave of a two-handed dunk sure to be on every highlight loop the rest of the season, senior guard Jerian Grant scored a game-high 24 points with six assists while playing in all 50 minutes. It reached a point soon after Grant’s dunk, which occurred way back with six minutes left in regulation, that the Irish simply put the ball in his hands and asked him to go make something happen. He often did.
But he had a lot of help.
“We,” Grant said, “can win a lot of different ways.”
Still kicking himself after missing two free throws in the first overtime, where a five-point Irish lead with 58.9 seconds remaining wasn’t safe enough, Connaughton delivered a critical 3 off a “circle rip” set early in the second overtime to help the Irish believe. Like his buddy Grant, Connaughton also played all 50 minutes in his 100th career start. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“Jerian was in my ear all game, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming,’ ” Connaughton said. “I wasn’t as aggressive during the beginning of the game, but I made sure to do the things I had to do, the little things, to help this team win.”
Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson had 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. His big 3 got the Irish rolling to start the first overtime. Prior to that shot falling in front of the home bench, Notre Dame was 1-of-13 from 3.
“I told (Jerian) to kick it to me; I was going to shoot it regardless,” he said. “I told (Jerian) to trust me, and he did and I stepped up and knocked it down.
“We just really trust each other and stay together.”
A year ago, Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory wouldn’t have minded seeing Jackson take that shot at a critical time. On Saturday, he did.
“I watched the Michigan State game (an Irish overtime win on Dec. 3), and I’m like, ‘Wait, that kid couldn’t even play last year,’ ” Gregory said of the Mishawaka native. “I was happy when he came in the game (last year). Now I’m happy when he leaves.
“Every player in America should look at Demetrius Jackson because there are 400,000 guys transferring because their freshman years don’t go the way they wanted it to. He just kept working.”
“He’s one of the best guards in the league,” said Gregory.
Marcus Georges-Hunt led Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-1) with 20 points. He had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but couldn’t get a clean look at a layup with one second left after dribbling out the previous 18. Charles Mitchell had a game-high 12 rebounds and had more offensive rebounds (6) than the Irish as a team (5).
Vasturia shook a scoreless first half to finish with 17 points and six rebounds.
“I just tried to be more aggressive,” Vasturia said. “I was able to get some open drives and that helped everybody else get open looks.”
It was a weird afternoon in a warm arena that saw only three ties and five lead changes. Less than three minutes in, Notre Dame trailed by 11 (13-2), its largest home deficit of the season. The Irish were down by eight with 13 minutes left in regulation, then led by four with four minutes and change remaining in the first 40.
Notre Dame never trailed and led by five with under a minute remaining in the first overtime, then never trailed and led by as many as eight in the final five minutes.
The Irish scored a season-low 27 points in the first 30 minutes, but tallied a combined 24 in the two five-minute extra sessions.
But a win.
“Nothing,” Brey said, “came really easily.”
The Irish led by five with 58.9 seconds left in the first overtime, but four missed free throws, and yet another rebound basket from Mitchell allowed the Yellow Jackets to tie it at 69.
Grant and Zach Auguste seemingly had point-blank looks at the rim the final two seconds of the first additional session, but came up empty. Auguste fell to ground in aggravation when his point-blank follow of a Grant miss rolled out. It was right there.
Notre Dame refused to fold.
“It’s a true test of our toughness,” Auguste said. “We’re just really focused on holding it down in the ACC.”
Momentum finally started to swing for the Irish late in the second half, when Grant drove the lane and exploded for a two-handed dunk. Seeing the lane open, Grant nearly jumped over Tech guard Tadric Jackson, who was called for a block.
The Irish have had their share of highlight plays already this season. That one may trump all of them.
“I knew I was going to dunk it,” Grant said. “I didn’t know how high I was going to get. Definitely that’s the highest I’ve been. Looking down at the rim like that, it’s crazy.”
No. 14 NOTRE DAME 83, GEORGIA TECH 76, 2OT
GEORGIA TECH (9-4): Charles Mitchell 6-9 2-2 14, Marcus Georges-Hunt 7-19 4-4 20, Demarco Cox 4-7 0-0 8, Chris Bolden 5-9 2-2 14, Travis Jorgenson 0-5 0-0 0, Tadric Jackson 0-4 0-0 0, Josh Heath 2-5 2-2 6, Quinton Stephens 2-5 0-0 5, Robert Sampson 4-9 1-3 9, Ben Lammers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-73 11-13 76.
NOTRE DAME (14-1): Zach Auguste 4-6 5-6 13, Demetrius Jackson 5-13 0-0 11, Jerian Grant 10-18 4-6 24, Pat Connaughton 4-8 0-2 10, Steve Vasturia 5-10 6-7 17, Austin Torres 2-2 0-0 4, V.J. Beachem 1-2 0-0 2, Austin Burgett 1-1 0-0 2, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-60 15-21 83.
Halftime: Georgia Tech 31-27. End Of Regulation: Tied 59. End Of 1st Overtime: Tied 69. 3-Point Goals: Georgia Tech 5-16 (Bolden 2-4, Georges-Hunt 2-5, Stephens 1-2, Jorgenson 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Sampson 0-2), Notre Dame 4-19 (Connaughton 2-5, Vasturia 1-5, Jackson 1-5, Grant 0-4). Fouled Out: Bolden. Rebounds: Georgia Tech 46 (Mitchell 12), Notre Dame 31 (Connaughton 8). Assists: Georgia Tech 12 (Jorgenson 4), Notre Dame 15 (Grant 6). Total Fouls: Georgia Tech 17, Notre Dame 14. A: 7,582.