Notre Dame delivers stunning overtime punch to 'Pack

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

RALEIGH, N.C. – Winners in 14 of the previous 15 games before being shoved into an early 18-point hole in an atmosphere that made it tough to breathe, No. 8 Notre Dame had every reason to fold Sunday, head for home and get right.

Instead, the Irish showed a whole lot of fight, and showed yet again that this college basketball season just might be turning into something special.

Battling back from a 12-point halftime deficit with some sizzling shooting, better defense and a resolve that just doesn’t seem to want to give in to anyone, anywhere, the Irish forced overtime against North Carolina State. Once into the extra five minutes, Notre Dame made the plays when it mattered for an 81-78 victory.

“We didn’t surprise ourselves at all,” said senior guard Jerian Grant. “We learned we can win in a lot of different atmospheres.

“To be 4-0 on the road in the ACC is big-time.”

The biggest.

“Man, am I proud of my team,” said coach Mike Brey. “God, darn, we had every reason to not think we’d get out of here tonight, but kept plugging. It’s a group that’s got a lot of mental toughness. We’re a confident team.”

The final numbers, aside from the final stats sheet, are simply staggering.

Notre Dame has lost only once – to No. 2 Virginia – in the last 64 days. The Irish are 19-2, four wins better than last season. They’re 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with one more league win than all of last season.

Notre Dame went 1-8 on the road in the league last year.

Sunday was the largest Notre Dame comeback since Feb. 18, 2012 when it roared back from 20 down to beat Villanova, also in overtime. The atmosphere that night was library-like. This one was an all-out assault on the senses.

The Irish kept their cool.

“We made the winning plays when we had to,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton. “At halftime, we were criticizing each other. We were able to fight to the finish.”

Talk to date for league player of the year has been centered on Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who comes to town Wednesday with the Blue Devils. But on Sunday, Grant showed why ballots better still be written in pencil.

Eraser, anyone?

Refusing to be defended or denied with the game on the line Grant scored a game-high 25 points and played all 45 minutes. He added four assists, three rebounds, two steals and one halfcourt heave at the end of regulation that nearly fell. It was that type of night for Grant, who was the best player on the floor at the most important time. Forget about just being mentioned for ACC player of the year, Brey said of Grant afterward, he played Sunday like a Top 10 pick in the summer’s NBA draft.

“I want to show the ACC what I can do,” Grant said. “It’s more about the team. We’re winning now and as long as we keep winning, everybody’s going to get looked at.”

Grant was there all game, and he was there to defend the final play.

Demetrius Jackson split two free throws with 12.4 seconds remaining to give the Irish a three-point lead. North Carolina State burned a timeout to set up the final sequence with 11.2 seconds remaining. Whatever the Wolfpack looked to do, Brey counseled his team, don’t foul. Not even up three.

“We weren’t fouling; we don’t foul,” Brey said. “I want that game to end as fast as possible.”

Trevor Lacey, a 6-3 guard, tried to get free for a 3 on the right wing, but the 6-5 Grant held his ground, then blocked the first offering with four seconds left. Lacey gathered the ball and tried to shoot it again, but time had expired.

“The step-back is his move,” Grant said. “I kind of sat on that. I was waiting for it to come. I didn’t lunge at the first pump-back and I knew that he had to get the ball up quick.

“I just put my hand up. With my length and my height, I got a hand on the ball.”

The Irish had found a way. Again.

“We almost love coming from behind,” Brey said. “Maybe we psychologically do it to ourselves, and then you kind of play loose and go for it.”

Grant wasn’t the only one to let loose inside locker room as hyped as the Irish have experienced since, well, three weeks ago in their first trip to the Triangle. That night, Notre Dame made the plays it needed to make to win for the first time ever at North Carolina. On Sunday, the Irish made the plays they needed to make to win for the first time ever inside PNC Arena.

That includes sophomore V.J. Beachem, who went to Blacksburg four nights earlier feeling really good and right about his shot, then was handed an 0-for-10 collar, including 0-for-7 from 3. Had that happened a year ago, Beachem might have fallen into a funk that lasted a few games, maybe even a few weeks. On Sunday, he knew he would get more chances to shoot and score. And when his first 3 fell, he felt all was again right in the world.

Beachem finished with 11 points.

“My teammates and coaches told me not to worry about it, just keep shooting, keep playing my game,” he said. “To go 0-for-10 was pretty much freakish. I knew just to stay confident, keep playing my game and things would fall back into place.”

Beachem’s biggest basket came far inside the 3-point line. Late in regulation, with the Irish down two, Connaughton had a chance right at the rim but missed. Beachem and his 6-foot-8 frame slithered into enough space for him to reach his long right arm up and tip home a miss with 1.8 seconds remaining.

“I saw Pat go up and three guys on him,” Beachem said. “I knew if it came off, I’d have the chance to get the offensive rebound. It ended up coming to my side and I was able to get it.”

North Carolina State had a chance to win it following Beachem’s tip.

The Wolfpack looked long to Abdul-Malik Abu on the inbound, but Abu pushed Connaughton in the back for an obvious foul. The Irish were in the bonus but because it was a player-control foul in the situation, no free throws were awarded.

That helped get it to overtime, where the Irish are 3-0 this season and have won nine of their last 10.

The visitor’s locker room was not a pleasant place at intermission. Not after North Carolina State shot 62.1 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3 and turned its court into a dunk drill. The Irish defense needed work – a lot of work – if they were to have a chance.

“They had 40 points,” Grant said of the Wolfpack’s 42 the first 20. “We can’t give up 40 points in the first half. We just had to get some stops.”

Notre Dame returned to the floor with five minutes still remaining before the start of the second half. The Irish hit their first three shots, got some stops and before anyone in red knew it, had ripped off a 23-10 run that culminated in a Zach Auguste layup to give the Irish a 53-52 lead.

“They kept going and executed well,” Lacey said of the Irish run. “They hit a couple of tough shots. We have to execute the offense better when they make tough shots.”

The Wolfpack fall to 13-8, 4-4.

Auguste had 10 points and 11 rebounds, which allowed the Irish a 43-34 rebounding advantage.

“When we put our minds to it,” Grant said, “I feel like we can rebound with the best of them.”

Notre Dame led twice in regulation. Both times by one. A Beachem drive and score and a Steve Vasturia drive that was goaltended helped the Irish grab their largest lead – four – with 63 seconds left in overtime.

“We talk about overtime being our time,” Brey said.

It was. Again.

NOTRE DAME (19-2): Demetrius Jackson 3-8 3-4 11, Jerian Grant 7-17 9-11 25, Pat Connaughton 4-9 1-2 11, Zach Auguste 5-9 0-2 10, Steve Vasturia 3-10 2-2 9, V.J. Beachem 4-8 1-2 11, Bonzie Colson 2-4 0-1 4. Totals 28-65 16-24 81.NC STATE (13-8): Abdul-Malik Abu 3-5 2-4 8, Trevor Lacey 4-13 3-4 13, Cody Martin 4-8 2-2 10, Ralston Turner 4-10 0-0 11, Kyle Washington 6-8 0-0 12, Desmond Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Lennard Freeman 0-2 0-0 0, Anthony Barber 2-8 0-0 4, Caleb Martin 4-8 2-2 12, Beejay Anya 4-4 0-0 8. Totals 31-66 9-12 78.Halftime--NC State 42-30. End Of Regulation--Tied 71. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 9-28 (Jackson 2-3, Connaughton 2-5, Beachem 2-6, Grant 2-7, Vasturia 1-6, Colson 0-1), NC State 7-24 (Turner 3-7, Ca. Martin 2-6, Lacey 2-8, Co. Martin 0-3). Fouled Out--Abu, Connaughton. Rebounds--Notre Dame 43 (Auguste 11), NC State 34 (Lacey, Co. Martin, Washington 6). Assists--Notre Dame 13 (Grant, Jackson 4), NC State 18 (Lacey 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 14, NC State 20. A--19,500.tnoie@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (22) shoots the ball over North Carolina State's Caleb Martin (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
North Carolina State's Abdul-Malik Abu battles between Notre Dame 's Pat Connaughton and Bonzie Colson during Sunday's game.AP Photo/KARL B DEBLAKER