Nearly every positive in Notre Dame's outstanding road effort Saturday afternoon in Louisville was related to its resuscitation of The Burn offense.
But they just couldn't find the range from beyond the three-point arc – that is, until it mattered most.
Trailing 48-44 with just over 1:20 remaining, Notre Dame redshirt-freshman Jerian Grant buried a three-pointer from the right wing. Less than a minute later, his backcourt mate Eric Atkins drilled a deep key three of his own, the pair of offerings on the heels of a 2 for 18 start from long range that Mike Brey's Irish somehow overcame en route to a 67-65 double overtime victory at #10 Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.
From ice cold, to ice water in their veins, the youth-filled Irish took their first step toward what had been unlikely NCAA tournament consideration with a road win that will resonate at season's end.
Brey's 2011 backcourt recruits were the late-game stars but it was senior Scott Martin and junior Jack Cooley that did the early heavy lifting, scoring 17 of the team's 24 first-half points while collecting 10 of its 17 boards before the break. The rest of the Irish shot just 3 for 15 including a 2 for 11 effort from the Atkins/Grant pair prior to a four-point deficit at intermission.
Cooley finished with a game-high 18 points and added 10 rebounds. Martin played far-and-away his best game of the season, collecting a game-best 12 boards while contributing 11 points and three steals though he finished 0-7 from long range.
Martin also drew a charge on lightning-quick Cardinals point guard Peyton Siva at the rim with under two seconds remaining to secure at tie at the end of regulation.
Grant added 17 including 9 in the game's final 11 minutes. Atkins scored 15 with 10 coming in the final 11 minutes. The newly-minuted captain and Irish floor general played all of the game's 50 minutes.
Atkins had a chance to win the game in the first overtime but split a pair of free throws with 3.7 remaining, sending the game into another extra session.
Trailing 63-61 with 1:25 remaining in the second overtime, Atkins took over, scoring six straight points (the final meaningful six of the contest) on a pair of jump shots followed by a game-icing pair of free throws that extended the visitor's margin to four, 67-63 with just 10 seconds remaining.
It was the sixth overtime contest played between the teams in their last nine meetings including an incredible four straight (two in 2011 including the Big East semi-finals won by Louisville). Two of the four have played to double overtime.
The win gave the Irish the program's first in the state of Kentucky since the all-star trio of Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Wooldridge, and Tracy Jackson engineered an upset of then-No.1 Kentucky at Louisville's Freedom Hall in late December, 1980.
Top of the ListOn the eve of Notre Dame's Big East opener vs. Pittsburgh, Irisheyes.com (specifically, me) revealed its three-tiered list of contests the Irish would face over the next 70-plus days and nights.
18 Big East games: each categorized by level of difficulty and the likelihood of an Irish victory.
Today's battle at Louisville was ranked the #1 most unlikely win for Brey's ever-improving group. Mission accomplished.
With a 2-1 start and a winnable home tilt vs. South Florida on tap, Notre Dame's undermanned crew can't afford to look ahead...but we can.
The Irish have eight more home games – they've won 28 straight in South Bend. They'll likely be underdogs in three of the eight (UConn, Syracuse, and Marquette). They have seven more road contests with just one, a matchup at Rutgers next week, that will likely be considered a toss-up at tip-off.
Holding serve at home is essential, but today's win allows the group a slip in South Bend. It also puts a feather in their cap when the NCAA Tournament Committee reviews resumes in mid-March.
Most important, it gives the group confidence away from home. The road remains long and treacherous, but Notre Dame suddenly seems capable of navigating it…one step at a time.