The Cardinals led 72-68 with 3:45 remaining but Mike Brey's Irish chipped away, knotting the score at 74, then holding the visitors without a field goal over the final minute – one that included two long possessions – to force the extra session.
"We did not talk about it in the timeout," Brey said of a strategy that saw the Irish switch from man defense to zone during the Cardinal's final offensive possession in regulation. "We talked about what we would do on the (Peyton) Siva ball screen.
"We changed on the fly and did a great job. That's veteran guys making it work. It changed their rhythm a little bit and forced a tough shot."
The Cardinals leading scorer entering the contest, Knowles was harried into 12 misses on his 17 attempts by Abromaitis, who played his best all-around game in nearly a calendar year, netting 23 points and 8 boards on a variety of inside shots, backdoor cuts, and crashes across the lane that resulted in a 9 for 9 effort from the foul line. Abromaitis secured three offensive boards, forced two jump balls, and had a hand in numerous 50/50 balls that resulted in Irish possessions.
The senior forward was defended by much smaller players the bulk of the evening – that league-preferred strategy was first employed late last year by South Florida in a narrow defeat to the Irish in South Bend.
"We've worked a lot on getting the five-foot shot," Abromaitis said of his adjustment to smaller defenders. "(Louisville) goes with a lot of guards and that's going to create mismatches so I tried to take advantage of that. I was able to find some buckets tonight."
Abromaitis noted he and his teammates had no trouble switching from man to zone in the game's most important possession.
"The way we communicate it's become easy for us," he said of the strategy. "Even in a loud environment we're able to talk and set up quickly, find our spots and guard well."
Notre Dame trailed by as many as eight points in the first half and by five in the second stanza. The Irish answered the deficits with runs of eight and seven points, respectively, in a contest that ranks as the best of the home season for the undefeated (15-0) South Benders.
Quicker to the ballLouisville was the aggressor over the first 20 minutes, earning 13 of their first 16 points due to a quick-paced secondary break after both missed and successful Irish shots.
"I thought we really defended better after the first half," Brey noted. "Their transition bothered us; we had a hard time keeping up with them."
Cardinals guard and Evansville, Ind., product Kyle Kuric dominated the opening stanza, hitting 7 of 9 shots for 18 points including a vicious half-ending dunk for which he later drew a taunting technical, giving the Irish (Abromaitis) two free throws to offset the damage.
Kuric hit just two field goals in the second half en route to a game-high 28 points but sophomore guard Peyton Siva picked up the slack, stressing the Irish man-to-man defense with penetration on a high pick-and-roll reminiscent of Notre Dame's bread-and-butter play featuring Ben Hansbrough.
"Siva's one of the quickest players in the country," offered Abromaitis of his foe post-game.
Notre Dame was led again by the late-game brilliance of Hansbrough. The 5th-year leader totaled 25 points on 9-17 shooting including a 5-10 effort from long range. Additionally, after a shaky start, the aforementioned Scott finished with 16 points including eight of the host's first 10 in overtime.
Scott had missed four of his first five shots including two easy looks at the rim before knocking down five of his final six including a crucial three-point bucket to begin the extra session.
Nash also contributed key late points. With the Irish trailing by two, the senior captain hit a pair of free throws with just over a minute remaining; the duo served as the final points of regulation.
Nash's foul shots earned the contest's 10th tied score of the second half (in addition to seven second stanza lead changes).
Notre Dame improved to 20-4 on the season and remains alone in second-place in the Big East standings. The victory marked the best 24-game start of Brey's 11-year tenure and it's the fifth consecutive season, and the eighth overall under Brey's leadership, in which the Irish have won at least 20 games.
Notre Dame travels to Tampa Saturday to take on struggling South Florida (2-10 after a one-point loss to Marquette Wednesday). A win over the Bulls would give the Irish their first seven-game conference winning streak since Brey's first squad won the initial eight league games of his Irish tenure in January 2001.
Note: IrishEyes will have more on tonight's victory over the Cardinals in its Player Review column Thursday afternoon.