Pretty much everything we thought a Notre Dame basketball game is supposed to be played went out the door in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday night. Maybe there was some sort of electromagnetic field that was created when the power went out before the game — but something extraordinary happened for the Irish to play a game that way — and win.
Basically — if you had to map out a way for Notre Dame to win a big game, their 89-87 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights likely wouldn’t come close to what you would have imagined.
Yes, Notre Dame played its normal offense. They played the entire half-court as they moved the ball around the perimeter. They found their lanes and drove the ball into the paint — but it was the continued push to shoot the ball inside rather than consistently kicking it outside for a three or the 17 footer that made the entire game different for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame scored 52 points in the paint against Rutgers with 26 of them coming via the determined Paul Atkinson. Rutgers was one of the best defensive teams in the Big 10 and are much bigger and longer than Notre Dame — and yet the Irish kept putting the ball inside the paint for scoring opportunities in a game where they shot 51% from the field and just 31% from behind the three point line.
In a close game, Notre Dame fans have just come to expect a big shot to come from the outside from guys like Prentiss Hubb or Nate Laszewski, but arguably the three biggest shots of the game all came inside the paint from three different players.
With the Irish in “must foul” territory after the Blake Wesley turnover in the first overtime, Cormac Ryan superseded that route by making a great steal and putting the ball in the bucket with a layup to go up one. Just a few game seconds later, Paul Mulcahy drained a three to put Rutgers up two with 8 seconds left. Again... we’re almost expecting a three point shot to follow for the Irish, but instead Blake Wesley takes it to the hoop for a layup to tie the game and send it to another overtime.
It was that third shot for Notre Dame — and the last one of the game — that ultimately gave us out final. Blake Wesley tried driving it in just as he had done in the first overtime, and as the ball bounced out as a miss, Paul Atkinson quickly put it up for a bucket and the win.
It was an incredible game, and would have been said as much by anyone who watched it to its finish. It doesn’t matter who won or in which time frame, both teams went to war from start to finish and the outcome was a coinflip throughout most of the game. What an awesome way top start the NCAA Tournament, and how incredible it all was for Notre Dame to give fans what will be one of the best moments in all of March Madness by doing the opposite of what we expected.
And this thing just got started.