NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Resilience went from a word in the dictionary to a tangible, living, breathing entity in No. 14/13 Notre Dame’s 83-76 double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
Trailing by 11 points in the first half – their largest deficit of the season – the Irish didn’t lead until 30:47 into the game, only to let it slip away down the stretch of regulation.
Leading by five just 39 seconds into the first overtime, the Irish missed four free throws, allowed the game to be knotted again, and missed a put-back that would have ended it.
Five more minutes was just what the Irish (14-1, 2-0) needed as Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste made sure there would be no third overtime and no upset loss at home heading to North Carolina Monday night.
“We made really big, winning plays,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “That’s what conference basketball is – hard games, grinding games -- and we’re thrilled to be 2-0 in the league.
“I talked to my group the last couple days about hard games. I expected it to be hard and it was. The easy stuff is over.”
Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-1) manhandled Notre Dame on the backboards, out-rebounding the Irish, 46-31, including 19 offensive rebounds to four. The Irish didn’t get their first offensive rebound until 6-foot-1 guard Demetrius Jackson scored on a put-back with 13:45 left in regulation.
Notre Dame – shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range coming into the game – converted just 4-of-19 against the Yellow Jackets.
But the Irish finally pulled in front with 9:13 remaining on a Pat Connaughton slam dunk, and the fireworks were just beginning. When all was said and done, Notre Dame had its eighth victory in its last nine overtime games.
“We’re on a great run there,” said Brey of Notre Dame’s overtime success. “In a lot of those games, we’ve had Jerian Grant as a great closer. Demetrius Jackson has become a closer, and Pat Connaughton has been in a lot of those games.
“I would put a lot of it on Connaughton and Grant, not only for what they do skill-wise, but how they talk to our group. I go into the huddle in overtime and they’re like, ‘Our time! Overtime is our time!’”
Indeed it was. Connaughton and Zach Auguste -- the latter of which was saddled with foul trouble most of the game and without a rebound until just 1:37 remained in regulation – carried the Irish to a 14-7 scoring advantage in the second overtime.
August scored 29 seconds into the second overtime, followed by Connaughton’s three-pointer and driving layup. Auguste added another bucket for a seven-point Irish lead, it’s largest of the afternoon, after dealing with the disappointment of missing a bunny put-back off a Grant miss as time was expiring at the end of the first overtime.
“Man, it was tough, but it’s just us being mature,” said Auguste of dealing with adversity. “Just play and take care of business.”
Auguste scored seven of his 13 points in the overtimes. But the Irish would miss four straight free throws – one by Auguste, two by Connaughton and one by Vasturia – which allowed Demarco Cox’s tip-in with 10.9 seconds remaining to knot the game after 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, Connaughton – himself having a quiet scoring game while playing all 50 minutes – finished with just 10 points and eight rebounds, but saved his best for last.
“Coach called those two, three plays for me to attack the mismatch,” Connaughton said. “The thing that makes us so dangerous is that we have guys that can get going at any time.
“Jerian was in my ear the whole game to be more aggressive, and I put it on myself for not doing that in the second half. I just wanted to make the plays that were necessary in the second overtime to get that win.”
After missing all four of his shots in the first half and failing to score, sophomore Steve Vasturia followed Brey’s edict to attack the basket. With the Irish trailing by four (31-27) at halftime, Vasturia scored all 17 of his points over the final 30 minutes of the game (the second half and two overtimes).
Meanwhile, Grant tossed in a game-high 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting, despite missing all four of his three-point attempts.
Grant’s spectacular slam dunk with 10:03 remaining in regulation pulled the Irish to within one and propelled Notre Dame to a short-lived four-point lead. Grant was so high off the ground, it looked like an optical illusion.
“I definitely did,” said Grant when asked if he felt higher off the ground than normal. “I didn’t know how high, but I definitely felt higher up.”
“I had a weird angle, but it looked like the rim was there,” said Brey, placing a flat hand chest-high.
Five Irish players finished in double figures – Grant (24), Vasturia (17), Auguste (13), Jackson (11) and Connaughton (10) – and the Irish needed every one of them to offset the rugged play of 6-foot-8, 276-pound Demarco Cox and 6-foot-8, 269-pound Charles Mitchell.
Cox and Mitchell combined for 22 points (14 by Mitchell) and 16 rebounds (12 by Mitchell), including nine offensive rebounds (6 by Mitchell). They pounded the boards and dominated the second-chance points category, although Notre Dame’s driving scores in the second half allowed the Irish to win the scoring in the paint, 54-40.
Georgia Tech had 13 more field-goal attempts than the Irish, who shot 53.3 percent to the Yellow Jackets’ 41.1.
“You can’t fault our effort or our competitiveness,” said Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory. “(Notre Dame) figured out a way to win the game. They hit three of their four three-pointers in overtime.”
Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, Marcus Georges-Hunt, paced the Yellow Jackets with 20 point on 7-of-19 shooting.
“With what’s coming, this was huge,” said Brey, whose squad travels to Chapel Hill for a Monday tilt with the Tar Heels, and then returns home for next Saturday’s clash with undefeated and No. 3 Virginia.
“We talked as a staff about the years that we got to 2-0 in the Big East, and that was a really good way to start. A lot of times things worked out really good.”
A higher level of achievement awaits the Irish in Chapel Hill.