Moments later, Atkins hoisted a second shot from the stripe that hit, well, nothing. Notre Dame emerged with a 79-71 overtime victory over DePaul at Allstate Arena, but this sight-of-sore-eyes sequence was emblematic of the afternoon's scratching, clawing, edgy effort from both sides.
This was honestly a great escape for the Irish (18-4, 6-3 Big East). With Syracuse and Louisville looming, blowing a 12-point second-half lead to besieged DePaul (10-11, 1-7) might have led to derailment in the Big East chase. Holding the Blue Demons to no field goals in overtime while scoring the first seven points preempted that.
"We had poise that we've been here before," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "After getting this one, we have nothing to lose (Monday at sixth-ranked Syracuse). Let it rip."
DePaul, meanwhile, graded out incomplete in losing its eighth straight to the Irish. The Blue Demons' second-half energy in half-court defense rattled Notre Dame. Shots started falling, all the way to Cleveland Melvin's jumper producing a 70-68 lead with 81 seconds left.
But after Jerian Grant tied it for Notre Dame with free throws and then missed a potential game-winner late in regulation, the Blue Demons started overtime coughing up one of their 11 turnovers. It got no better for them from there.
"We played hard for 40 minutes," said Brandon Young, who led DePaul with 15 points. "I don't think we really played hard for the last five minutes."
Jack Cooley's brute-force effort of 26 points and 16 rebounds stoked the squadron of fans in the stands to watch the Glenbrook South grad at work, but it was Atkins returning to the Irish huddle after Grant's miss and assuring his team: This game is ours. We have to finish it now.
That's the soothing influence DePaul didn't have, apparently, as Atkins' five straight points — including a corner 3-pointer — set the tone in overtime.
"During those tough times, my team really looks for me to hit a big shot," Atkins said. "If it has to be anybody on this team, it's going to be Jerian or me. We really just embrace that."
Even if that last shot from the free-throw line was hardly his biggest.
"It was almost like, 'Can I get back to the hot tub at the Westin?' " Brey joked. "He was dead."
Others could relate. As time wound down, Cooley turned to the faces behind the Irish bench and waved his arms in triumph. Later, he was a little less nimble as he shuffled out of the trainer's room with his left elbow and right knee encased in ice.
"It was just a tough game, really," Cooley said, and that either side could agree on.