I just got back from Madison Square Garden. It's late, I lost my voice and I'm exhausted but a win, no matter how ugly, is a win and I am happy.
With a 57-53 overtime victory over the USF Bulls, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame advanced to the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament and will play on Friday night.
Quick recap of the Irish win following the jump.
It took nearly 35 minutes for Jack Cooley to grab his first rebound and 41 minutes for Eric Atkins to score his first point - and to escape with a win on a night where two of the team's most important players struggled nearly from beginning to end, ought to give Irish fans a sigh of relief.
The Irish started out with a zone but the Bulls took advantage hitting 4/5 from beyond the arc in the first 8 minutes of the game taking a 20-8 advantage early. But the Irish fought back with a 18-0 run of their own and took a 28-26 lead going into the tunnels.
This team has thrived in most close game situations all year and they displayed that calm about themselves again Thursday night. Even when the team was down three with just under a minute to go, they did not lose confidence and Jerian Grant, who has come up with big plays all year did so again stealing the ball with 38 seconds left and drawing a foul to hit two free throws. Then after a USF missed free throw, Grant found the streaking Pat Connaughton as the freshman from Massachusetts was able to draw a foul and hit one of two to tie the game up.
Atkins, who had not scored in regulation, took over the game in overtime scoring 6 points - including a dagger 3 to put the Irish up 54-50. Connaughton also redeemed himself by hitting all four of his free throw attempts to put the Bulls away.
USF had a chance to win both at the end of regulation and the end of overtime but the Irish defense prevailed and after stealing a win late Thursday night, they will prepare to avenge last year's tournament loss to Louisville on Friday night for a chance to advance to the Big East championship game.
The game is scheduled for a 9:00 tip off and will be broadcast live on ESPN.
Some notes from watching the game live:
- ND fans don't like close games. They get anxious and lose energy. Despite the fact that ND fans outnumbered USF fans at least 2-to-1 in the Garden the only times they overpowered the opposing crowd was during the 18-0 run in the first half and at the end of regulation and overtime
- Scott Martin is an elite defender and seems to have found his shot. He communicates so well with his younger teammates as to where to be on any given possession and plays the pick and roll defense exceptionally well. Martin scored 21 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in last year's OT tourney loss to Louisville, here's to hoping he has another big night, but in a ND win this time. And though I've bashed him plenty early in the season, allow me to say I'm sorry and I want him back on next year's squad to continue to anchor the defense and mentor Connaughton and Cameron Biedschied
- Cooley looked like he was gonna die at the end of regulation, yet somehow found the energy to power through the overtime. That's what you call a man.
- I got to see the second half of the Marquette-Louisville game. Those Louisville jerseys are hideous. Absolutely disgusting.