#3: Round of 32 Win over Butler
In one of the most exciting games of the NCAA Tournament's first weekend, the Irish survived an absolute brawl against in-state opponent Butler in the round of 32. The win was a huge step for the program giving Mike Brey just his second Sweet Sixteen appearance with the Irish. The coach had been frequently criticized for his inability to win in March, and Butler was seen as a trendy upset pick waiting to knock off an Irish team that had frequently under-performed in the dance.. The game itself was a back-and-forth battle between two fantastic teams. Butler succeeded in slowing down the tempo, and defended the Irish as well as any team in the country. Neither team ever led by more than eight points, and if the first 39 minutes were nerve-wracking, they had nothing on the final minute of regulation.
With the game tied at 55 and with six seconds on the clock, Butler guard Roosevelt Jones missed a tough runner from short range. Zach Auguste grabbed the board and started up the floor, but was called for a double-dribble giving the ball back to the Bulldogs. After a timeout, Butler inbounded to Kellen Dunham whose three pointer would have ended Notre Dame's season. Instead, Captain Pat Connaughton used his absurd vertical leap to swat the shot into the stands to save the game for ND. After Butler failed to score in the remaining tenths of seconds, the game went to OT. The Irish jumped ahead in the overtime period, and while they never led by more than five, big shots at the end of the shot clock by Steve Vasturia and Jerian Grant were enough to get the Irish to the Sweet Sixteen. After the game, news broke that Coach Brey lost his mother earlier in the day. Brey kept the news from his team until after the game, and what should have been one of the happiest moments of his career became a bittersweet one.
#2: Win over Wichita State in Sweet Sixteen
Despite being a three seed facing a seven seed, the Irish were underdogs going into the game against the Shockers. As such, someone watching ND for the first time would not have been surprised to see Wichita State take a one point lead early in the second half. A Darius Carter jumper put the Shockers ahead 38-37, and led to Mike Brey calling a timeout. What followed was one of the best displays of offensive basketball seen all season. The next four Irish possessions ended with three open threes and one layup. All four buckets were assisted. After a TV timeout, the Irish got layups on their next three possessions before Steve Vasturia missed a three coming out of the under 12:00 timeout. ND turned a one point deficit into an 11 point lead in just four minutes. They were just getting started. The Irish grew their lead to as many as 19 before ultimately winning 81-70. The Shockers had no answer for the Irish offensive execution, and the Irish defense prevented them from keeping pace. When it was said and done, four Notre Dame starters finished with over 15 points, and the only starter not in double figures (Jerian Grant) contributed 11 assists. The second half run led to national basketball media members saying things like this,
Notre Dame will pass and cut or pass and screen. The Irish don't pass and stand. Beautiful basketball. A culture of passing.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 27, 2015
Welcome to the Notre Dame bandwagon, America. We've been expecting you. Feel free to make yourself at home.— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) March 27, 2015
After two grind it out wins in the tournament's first weekend, the Irish finally played up to their potential in a tournament game, and reached the Elite Eight in style for the first time in the Mike Brey era.
#1 ACC Tournament Championship Against North Carolina
To win the program's first ever conference championship, the Irish would have to knock off two ACC blueblood programs in defacto road games on back-to-back nights. After beating Duke on Friday night, Notre Dame was faced North Carolina for the chance to hang a banner in the JACC. The two teams went to the locker room with the Irish holding a five point lead after a back-and-forth first period. In the second, UNC ran out to a nine point lead, their biggest of the game, when Marcus Paige hit a three with 9:59 to go. Less than two minutes later, the Irish would tie the game. Jerian Grant finished at the rim to start the run, and Demetrius Jackson hit a big three to cut the lead to five. Next, Steve Vasturia made a nice defensive play for a steal, and finished with a layup at the other end to make it a one possession game. then, to complete the comeback, Vasturia hit a three to tie the game after a beautiful sequence of passes.
The next possession ended with a Pat Connaughton three giving the Irish the lead. A UNC timeout couldn't stop the onslaught as the Irish grew their lead to 14 after a great pass from Grant found Connaughton for an easy dunk. The bucket, just inside the three minute mark, capped a 26-3 run for the Irish. Let me say that again. Against a blueblood ACC program playing with home court advantage in the ACC Championship Game, the Irish dropped a 26-3 run in just over seven minutes. While the Irish hit some big shots during the run, the defense was just as impressive. They not only forced tough shots and rebounded them, but they forced multiple turnovers during the run. The Tar Heels had no chance of recovery, and the Irish got to cut down the nets as ACC Champions in just their second season in the league. Fittingly, Grant and Connaughton led the way with 24 and 20 points each, but every Irish starter hit double figures. While the team ultimately fell short of the Final Four, come the fall, there will be a nice banner hanging in the JACC to commemorate this team for years to come. And to think we would have been happy making the tournament as a bubble team.