Irish Rewind: Notre Dame roars back to stun Villanova with overtime victory

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — Pick a word to describe what transpired inside the Wells Fargo Center late Saturday and it likely still falls way short.

Improbable?

Impossible?

Amazing?

Unbelievable?

No words might be able to adequately describe what the Notre Dame men’s basketball team did in an overtime victory against Villanova. Down by as many as 20 points in the first half, in which it could do little right, No. 23 Notre Dame did enough to force overtime, stay patient with the plan and find a way to win 74-70.

“It is one of the most fun things I’ve ever been around,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “This group really believes, but I got on their (backsides) at halftime and we really found a way.”

Pat Connaughton connected on seven 3-pointers for 21 points and Jack Cooley added his fourth consecutive double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. It was his 10th of his career — all this season. Eric Atkins added 17 points and five assists.

“Never a doubt,” Atkins said. “Never a doubt.”

For Villanova, it was another heartbreaking league loss. Three weeks after letting an 18-point lead slip away at home, a 20-point lead wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, now 11-15, 4-10.

The Irish stretched their league win streak to eight games, which ties the school record. It was league road win No. 5 this season, which also ties the school record for Notre Dame, now 19-8, 11-3 Big East. The Irish have not lost since Jan. 16 at Rutgers. This looked like the night the win streak would end - and rather decisively.

Notre Dame trailed by 12 with 11:12 remaining in regulation. But Notre Dame staged a methodical second-half rally that saw the Irish take a four-point lead with 60 seconds remaining in regulation in front of a rather stunned crowd.

"We just stayed poised," Atkins said. "And kept chipping at it."

Another Connaughton 3 - his sixth - gave the Irish a 65-62 lead with 2:21 remaining in overtime. JayVaughn Pinkston then tied it with a 3 with 1:51 before Jerian Grant responded with a 3, and it was 68-65 Irish with 1:26 left.

Connaughton's seventh 3 made it 71-65 with 45.9 seconds remaining in overtime.

"Fearless," Brey said of Connaughton. "That's been coming. That's been there."

Connaughton simply shrugged at being able to hit big shot after big shot. Playing with Atkins and fellow guard Grant, he said, makes his job easy. On Saturday, it was really easy.

"We're just a great passing team and love playing with each other," Connaughton said. "I just have to shoot the ball."

The Irish led by as many as eight points - their largest lead of the night - during the extra session.

The defense and the effort were better in the second half, which allowed the Irish to keep battling. The Irish trailed by double digits for a good chunk of the game before getting as close as five in the second half.

Connaughton then hit a 3 to make it a two-point game with 2:21 left. And when Atkins drove the lane, hit a tough shot and was fouled, the Irish had a 57-56 lead with 1:42 left.

"We believe in each other," Atkins said. "Once we got to overtime, I knew we were going to win."

Grant then hit a big fadeaway 3 from near the top of the key to make it 60-56 as chants of "Let's Go Irish!" bounced around the building.

Brey burned his final timeout with 31.8 seconds remaining - 12 to shoot - and the Irish up 60-58. The Irish were forced into a bailout shot from Grant with the shot clock set to expire. Villanova rebounded, called timeout and had the ball with 8.7 seconds remaining and would have to go nearly the length of the floor.

Maurice Sutton then rebounded a Wildcat miss and put in the tying basket with 0.9 seconds left to force overtime at 60-all.

In the first half, Notre Dame fell into the 20-point hole when Villanova grabbed every loose ball, made seemingly every open shot and just played with more energy.

Everything looked like it was fine early for the Irish, who connected on four of their first six shots and led 10-5 following a Connaughton 3. The rest of the first half then belonged to Villanova, which was simply better in every phase while Notre Dame played the part of a flustered, uncertain road team.

The Irish also didn't help matters by missing six straight shots.

Villanova ran off 13 consecutive points, capped by a Dominick Cheek 3 off yet another offensive rebound before Cooley finally stopped the Irish hemorrhaging with a layup. Villanova then ran off seven more unanswered points, and by the time the under-8-minute media timeout had arrived, the Irish were down 13.

Connaughton delivered a 3 to bring the Irish back within 10 before two more Villanova 3s - from Pinkston and Cheek - bumped the Wildcats up 31-15. Another Pinkston drive made it 33-15, thanks to a 28-5 burst.

Pinkston staggered through a 1-for-13 shooting effort earlier in the week in the loss at South Florida. He then returned to hit five of 10 shots in the first half and had a game-high 14 points.

It was Notre Dame's largest road deficit during its win streak and largest since trailing by 17 points at Cincinnati in early January.

The story of the first half collapse was rebounding, or a lack of it by the Irish. At one point, the Wildcats had corralled 20 rebounds. The Irish could get to just six. The Wildcats had a 22-8 rebounding advantage at half.

Villanova's front line was tall and lanky, but many of those rebounds were a result of hustle and hard work, something the Irish didn't offer when it was a close contest.

It was a different story the second half. A really different story.

NOTRE DAME (74): Scott Martin 1-9 4-4 6, Pat Connaughton 7-15 0-0 21, Jack Cooley 8-11 2-4 18, Eric Atkins 5-13 5-7 17, Jerian Grant 3-15 1-2 10, Alex Dragicevich 0-2 0-0 0, Tom Knight 0-0 0-0 0, Joey Brooks 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-66 12-17 74.

VILLANOVA (70): JayVaughn Pinkston 7-18 6-8 24, Maurice Sutton 6-9 0-0 12, Mouphtaou Yarou 2-8 0-0 4, Ty Johnson 3-13 2-2 8, Dominic Cheek 5-11 6-8 19, Darrun Hilliard 0-2 1-2 1, Markus Kennedy 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-63 15-20 70.

Halftime - Villanova 39-23. End Of Regulation - Tied 60. 3-Point Goals - Notre Dame 12-31 (Connaughton 7-12, Grant 3-10, Atkins 2-7, Martin 0-1, Dragicevich 0-1), Villanova 7-19 (Pinkston 4-8, Cheek 3-5, Sutton 0-1, Hilliard 0-2, Johnson 0-3). Fouled Out - Kennedy. Rebounds - Notre Dame 37 (Cooley 13), Villanova 47 (Yarou 11). Assists - Notre Dame 20 (Grant 9), Villanova 13 (Johnson 7). Total Fouls - Notre Dame 15, Villanova 17. A - 15,939.

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton battles for a rebound with Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou during the second half of a game on Feb. 18, 2012. Notre Dame won in overtime, 74-70. (AP File Photo/MICHAEL PEREZ)

Each week during the college basketball season, NDI takes a look back at a memorable Irish game with a reprint of the story that appeared in the South Bend Tribune.

This week's Irish Rewind rolls back nearly five years ago to a Saturday night in Philadelphia. Notre Dame trailed by 20 points to Villanova, but the Irish were just getting started.

Turns out the Irish had the Wildcats right where they wanted them.

This story appeared in the Feb. 19, 2012 edition of the Tribune.

If you have a suggestion for Irish Rewind, send it to tnoie@ndinsider.com.