Brick by Brick

Notre Dame won a defensive struggle Thursday night, advancing to its third straight conference semi-finals with a 57-53 overtime victory over #6 seed South Florida.

NEW YORK – Notre Dame sophomore captain Eric Atkins finished the first 40 minutes of Thursday night's quarterfinal contest vs. South Florida without a point. He ended it with the game's biggest shot, a three-point dagger from the top of the key that gave Notre Dame a four-point edge in what became a 57-53 overtime victory over the sixth-seeded Bulls.

Atkins scored just five points – the first and last field goals of the overtime session – but contributed six assists and just two turnovers

"We were poised down the stretch, especially on the defensive end, knowing who to help off of, and just rebounding," Atkins offered post-game. "They're a huge team inside. They usually just beat up people on the boards, so I think that we definitely got tough on the boards tonight."

South Florida grabbed just one more rebound than did the Irish, surprising in that Notre Dame center Jack Cooley managed just one board in 33 frustrating minutes. He was bailed out by frontcourt mate Scott Martin's 12-rebound, 10-point effort and aggressive work on the defensive glass from freshman swingman Pat Connaughton, who finished with six rebounds and 12 points including an icing pair of free throws to end the contest.

"We're going to need more than that tomorrow night to stay alive," said head coach Mike Brey of Cooley's one rebound outing.

They stayed alive largely through defense, limiting South Florida to a 13 of 45 shooting effort over the last 33 minutes after a scorching 8 for 10 start that included a quartet of three-point buckets. The Bulls came into the contest hitting just 22 of their previous 88 offerings from long range.

South Florida was led by Victor Rudd with 16 points and seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Anthony Collins added 13 with seven assists and five steals before leaving the contest late with a finger injury.

Jerian Grant joined Martin and Connaughton in double figures for the Irish, scoring 12 points while dishing out six assists and playing aI think it'll be close. They're good on Dll 45 minutes. It was Grant who gave the Irish late hope in regulation, manufacturing a one-on-one steal vs. Rudd at the 0:38-mark, an ensuing Rudd foul plus Grant free throws cut the Bulls lead to one, 45-44.

The Irish had a chance to win in regulation but Connaughton split a pair at the charity stripe and an apparent foul vs. Cooley was ruled a jump ball, effectively ending regulation.

Shooting Blanks

Connaughton began the second half of with a layup at the 19:47 mark. A whopping 10 game minutes later, a Notre Dame basketball player followed suit. And so it went throughout most of last night's ugly affair, a contest that included 62 missed shots (vs. 39 that rang true) and field goal droughts of 9:10 (USF) and 9:58 (ND). The Irish also failed to hit a field goal in the last 6:47 of regulation.

The Bulls defense – the best at defending their own bucket in the history of the Big East according to their league record-low 56.9 ppg. allowed, stymied Notre Dame in the halfcourt, allowing just four second-half field goals, three of which came from long range.

With the win, Notre Dame advances to Friday night's semi-finals and a rematch vs. Louisville. The Cardinals and the Irish squared off last season in the same round with Louisville prevailing in overtime to advance to the Big East Championship, later losing to Connecticut.

Notre Dame extracted a measure of revenge in mid-January, beating Louisville in double overtime in their own building, 67-65. Each of the last three contests between the Cardinals and Irish have been played to extra sessions as have a remarkable 6 of 10 overall.

The Bulls fell to 20-13 on the season (12-6 in regular season Big East action) but likely remain on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Irisheyes.com will have more on Notre Dame's quarterfinals win over South Florida in its Friday morning publishing schedule.


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