Notre Dame evades Butler in overtime thriller

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH — The script remains the same with only the names of the cities changing for the Notre Dame men's basketball team.

And with what this group pulled off early Sunday morning - having to defend to get it to overtime then hitting clutch shot after shot against against a Butler team that just kept battling - the next city on the Irish itinerary is Cleveland.

Steve Vasturia scored 20 points and Jerian Grant added 16 points and five assists as Notre Dame (31-5) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 with a 67-64 overtime victory in a third-round NCAA tournament game at CONSOL Energy Center.

Notre Dame advances to the Midwest Regional semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena to play Thursday against the winner of Sunday's game between No. 2 seed Kansas and No. 7 Wichita State. Tip time for Thursday's game will likely be known early Monday morning.

"We should head to Cleveland really confident," said Irish coach Mike Brey.

The euphoria of having to figure it all out again with the odds seemingly stacked against them - and then doing it yet again - was overshadowed by news after the game that Brey's mother had died earlier in the day at her home in Florida.

Betty Brey was 84 years old and had traveled last weekend to Greensboro, N.C., where she watched her son and Notre Dame capture the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.

"She saw that," Brey said. "I do feel good that I got her there."

Irish players did not learn of the passing of Brey's mother until after the game. Brey said afterward there was no way he would have skipped the game. His family - and his mother - would have wanted it that way.

"She was with me all the way tonight," Brey said. "Man, she had a great run. An amazing woman."

While the Notre Dame traveling party is expected to return to Indiana on Sunday, Brey will go to central Florida to be with his father and his brother and sister to tend to funeral arrangements.

"I will be around the pool in Orlando in the backyard with my dad, my brother and my sister, smoking a cigar watching Kansas and Wichita State," said Brey, who plans to return to campus Monday to prepare for Thursday's game.

Brey turned 56 on Sunday.

As time wound down early Sunday morning, it was almost fitting that Vasturia held the ball. He hit a critical — like season-saving critical — corner 3 as the shot clock expired to push the Irish up four with 1:21 remaining in overtime. He did it off a pass from Grant in the same corner — and basically same situation — as when Notre Dame beat Duke in January.

"Our players read me so well and I read him," Grant said. "I knew he was sprinting to the corner. When I drive like that and put it on the money, I know it was going in."

It's the third time this season that Vasturia has had a chance to hit a crusher 3 from the corner in late-clock situations. The last time he had that chance - in the same city in a regular-season game up the road at Pittsburgh - the shot didn't drop.

This time, it did.

"Jerian got in the lane and saw my defender lose track of me," Vasturia said. "I was able to knock it down."

Pat Connaughton gave the Irish some serious life with a corner 3 and a three-point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the five-minute overtime. It was his first 3 after missing on his previous five.

Notre Dame is 4-0 in overtime this season.

"Once we got to overtime, we were kind of laughing," Brey said. "Like, right where you want to be with our overtime record."

With the game tied at 55 and 20.3 seconds remaining in regulation, Butler had the ball and the chance to decide everything. Either the Bulldogs were going to win it or it was going to be on to overtime as Saturday night slid into Sunday morning.

Notre Dame then forced Roosevelt Jones into a contested shot on a runner through the lane. It missed. Zach Auguste corralled the loose ball but was called for double dribble going up the floor. With two seconds remaining, it was Butler ball again.

A combined three timeouts were needed before the final sequence unfolded. And it unfolded in dramatic fashion as Connaughton swatted a Kellen Dunham jumper with 0.6 seconds remaining.

"I actually said, 'Not tonight,'" Connaughton said of the sequence. "The funny part about it is, we had made a few mistakes up to then and guys were frustrated. But I said to them, 'That's gone. There's nothing we can do. The beautiful thing is we have complete control over the outcome of this game.'"

Butler had a chance to win it again but a Jones lob to Kameron Woods didn’t connect as regulation finally expired.

"To be able to get that stop on the defensive end to send us into overtime and end up sending us to the Sweet 16 is something I'm very proud of these guys for," Connaughton said.

The Irish committed three turnovers in the final few minutes of a game too close for any comfort.

Dunham drained a 3 over Grant to tie the game at 55 with 2:36 remaining. The Irish then used a timeout with 1:40 remaining and 30 seconds left on the shot clock. Midnight was fast approaching — in more ways than one.

The Irish then turned it over coming back out of the timeout. It remained tied at 55 with 1:13 remaining and Butler ball with 16 seconds to shoot. Notre Dame’s defense held, but the Irish again turned it over again after collecting the ball, giving possession back to Butler with 44.5 seconds remaining.

Trailing by six with just over nine minutes left, Notre Dame ran off eight unanswered to grab momentum and a two-point lead with under six minutes remaining, and it was on to executing game situations — again — to advance or go home.

It was the first matchup between the Indiana schools in nine seasons.

Unable to get a field goal for more than six minutes in the second half, Notre Dame trailed by five with 7:58 remaining. Notre Dame played the comeback game the previous Saturday, erasing a nine-point deficit late in the second half to beat North Carolina for the ACC championship.

It would have to do it again.

A Demetrius Jackson baseline drive and tomahawk dunk bumped the Irish up by five less than seven minutes into the second half, but it was the Bulldogs who were starting to find their offensive footing. An Andrew Chrabascz 3 from straight on tied it at 41 and when Jones again worked free inside for a tricky maneuver and foul, the Irish were down three with 11:16 remaining.

The deficit got to six before Brey needed a timeout to try and get his offense back in a good gear. Notre Dame went over six minutes without a basket following the Jackson drive and dunk.

Jackson snapped that streak with a 3-pointer after an offensive possession coming back from a timeout was going nowhere.

When the offense stagnates, the Irish always find a way to get to the free throw line. But even that was a chore. Notre Dame didn’t shoot its first free throw in the second half until 8:38 remained.

The Irish went to the locker room up two, 31-29, and 20 minutes away from extending their dream season. Dunham came into the contest Butler’s leading scorer at 16.8 per game. He got nothing the first half as the Bulldogs whiffed on all three of their 3-point attempts. A consistent team awareness by Notre Dame simply wouldn’t allow Dunham to do much.

To do anything.

Dunham finally got a 3 to fall in transition early in the second half. That sliced a six-point Irish advantage in half.

As was the case in Thursday’s tournament opener, Notre Dame had trouble getting its offense in gear, because it had to guard for long possessions — just the way Butler wants to play. That and some Big East physicality, something the Irish still remember from their days in the conference.

A 10-point lead just over halfway through the first half was seemingly too much success for Notre Dame to enjoy. The Irish built that advantage by paying attention to detail on both ends, then got a little lax with the ball and guarding it. They had no answer for Jones, who tweaked his left knee in Thursday’s second-round win over Texas.

Nobody in Notre Dame mustard gold could consistently guard Jones, whose game resembles that of someone running noon pickup at the downtown YMCA. Jones broke free for four quick points, including a nifty flip shot, to tie it at 27 with 1:23 remaining before halftime.

The Irish operated offensively as if they could get any shot they wanted, but then staggered through a stretch of nearly six minutes without a basket. Vasturia ended that streak with a top-of-the-key 3 to bump Notre Dame up by four 35.1 seconds before the break.

The Irish led by as many as 10 and trailed by as many as four the first 20 minutes. Vasturia led Notre Dame with 11 points in the first half. Jones led all with 15.

Notre Dame’s defensive awareness limited Butler to no field goals for nearly six minutes before an Alex Barlow steal and score sliced the Irish lead to six.

Saturday’s game didn’t tip until after 10 p.m. — nearly 10 hours later than when Notre Dame opened tournament play two days earlier against Northeastern — thanks to some high drama in the opener. Fellow ACC member North Carolina State, a No. 8 seed, beat No. 1 seed Villanova in a third-round East Region game.

Brey wanted the building “sweating” by the time his team took the floor.

He got his wish.

Tapping into all the good karma that he could with a team that entered Saturday having won six straight and10 of its last 11, Brey went with the same green-checkered dress shirt that he wore the previous Saturday in the ACC tournament championship game against North Carolina.

(574) 235-6153


Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton (24) defends as Butler's Kellen Dunham runs a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball tournament Round of 32 game Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)