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2022 March Madness, Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Irish Defeat Rutgers 89-87 in WILD 2OT Thriller of a Play-In Game

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Per usual, it was harder than it needed to be and gave us about 10 heart attacks along the way, but Brey and the boys are moving on to the first round to face Alabama

NCAA Basketball: First Four-Notre Dame at Rutgers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team kicked off their 2022 NCAA Tournament appearance with a WILD, dramatic victory, defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights by a final score of 89 to 87 in a double-overtime thriller at University of Dayton Arena.

The Irish were led on the night by Paul Atkinson Jr., who scored 26 points on a ridiculous 13-of-15 shooting, snagged 6 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots on the game. Other key contributions came from Nate Laszewski (18 points, 6 rebounds), Cormac Ryan (16 points, 3 steals), Dane Goodwin (12 points, 4 rebounds), Prentiss Hubb (9 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds), and Blake Wesley (8 points, 6 rebounds).

NCAA Basketball: First Four-Notre Dame at Rutgers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, Notre Dame as a team shot 51% from the field and 32% from long range while losing the rebounding battle decisively but winning the turnover battle 5 to 13.

The Scarlet Knights were paced in scoring on the evening by Caleb McConnell (23 points, 11 rebounds), while Ron Harper Jr. (22 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), Geo Baker (19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), and Clifford Omoruyi (15 points, 6 rebounds) chipped in as well. Rutgers shot 51% from the floor overall and 41% from long range

The game began mostly in the Scarlet Knights’ favor, as they were able to win the tip, score on their first possession, and then force a backcourt violation from the Irish on their first time down the floor offensively. However, the Irish quickly began feeding Paul Atkinson Jr. (8 points in the first 8 minutes of play) and also got some offense (and defense) from Cormac Ryan, and by the under-12 media timeout, Notre Dame led 17-15 in a very back-and-forth game with multiple lead changes and ties in the early going.

NCAA Basketball: First Four-Notre Dame at Rutgers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers then grabbed control of the game behind an 11-2 run, which was fueled partially by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Caleb McConnell, who traded in his defense-first mentality for on-fire offense, scoring 18 first half points on 8-of-9 shooting. The Irish responded to keep it close, but another mini-run by the Scarlet Knights to end the half left Rutgers up 41-36 at the break.

In the second half, Rutgers pushed their lead to 8 early, but the Irish quickly closed the gap by finally getting a few stops in a row and converting on the offensive end. By the first media timeout of the half, it was once again a close game, with the Scarlet Knights leading by 4.

From there, it seemed at times like Rutgers was threatening to pull away a bit, but the Irish managed to stick around, including back-to-back possessions with threes from Ryan and Goodwin that pulled ND within one.

A bit later, a tough Cormac Ryan drive and layup in traffic tied the game at 53, and after some great defense from the Irish (Trey Wertz showing the nice hands and poise to get a steal and save it while falling out of bounds to a teammate), Wesley drove aggressively to the hoop for a bucket to put the Irish in the lead for the first time since the first half. This forced a Rutgers timeout with a little less than 9 minutes to play.

NCAA Basketball: First Four-Notre Dame at Rutgers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Then, it was Notre Dame’s turn to threaten to pull away, growing their lead to as much as 5 with 6 minutes to play during a near-6-minute stretch where Rutgers didn’t make a field goal. However, the Irish missed multiple free throws and failed to secure defensive rebounds when they needed them, and Rutgers clawed their way back to make it 63-62 with just 4 minutes remaining. This one was going to come down to the wire, folks.

And indeed it did, as neither team gave just about any ground down the stretch, matching each other bucket for bucket until the final minute, where the Irish failed to get a bucket and then gave Rutgers two chances thanks to an offensive rebound for the Scarlet Knights. That second chance was a fadeaway jumper from Baker, but it fell short and bricked off the front iron, sending the game to overtime.

In overtime, the first two minutes of play saw Rutgers convert on an alley-oop and Dane Goodwin make 1 of 2 free throws, and that was about it, with neither team really seizing control. However, the Irish appeared to do so over the next couple minutes, holding a 2-point lead with a minute to go and Rutgers missing the front end of a one-and-one. Unfortunately, Rutgers somehow managed to get the offensive rebound, and then Ron Harper Jr. banked in a DEEP, desperation three.

NCAA Basketball: First Four-Notre Dame at Rutgers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The final minute was an incredible roller coaster. Cormac Ryan stole an inbound pass in the backcourt and got a layup to give the Irish the lead, but Paul Mulcahy managed to get wide open on the other end and drained a go-ahead three with just 8 seconds to go. Wesley immediately came down and attacked the hoop, though, laying it in. Harper’s halfcourt shot attempt missed, and we headed to double overtime.

In double overtime, it was more of the same with the two teams playing relatively even, until the final minute, when the Irish built out a 3-point lead with 41 seconds to go after some Prentiss Hubb free throws following a foolish foul by Rutgers. Of course, knowing how crazy this game was and how this Irish team always makes things interesting, we all knew what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Ron Harper Jr. buried a ridiculously tough three-pointer to tie it, giving the Irish the ball with 22 seconds to go and the last shot. Wesley held the ball, drove to the hoop with the clock winding down, and missed a wild attempt that ended up in Atkinson’s hands under the hoop. Atkinson deftly made a move to flip the ball up off the glass, converting the game-winning bucket with just over a second remaining. Rutgers’ final shot attempt didn’t get off in time, and past midnight in the Eastern time zone in the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish escaped with a wild 2-point win.

With the win, the Irish advance as the official 11-seed in the West Region, and will now fly to San Diego to take on the 6th-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide in a first round matchup on Friday at 4:15 PM ET.