NEW YORK – A team that had played with such an edge for most of this college basketball season seemingly lost it at the most inopportune time.
Unable to hold what had once been a 16-point lead, and a 14-point halftime cushion, No. 2 seed Notre Dame saw its chances of advancing to the Big East Championship title game for the first time in school history slip away Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Louisville, the No. 3 seed, did just enough late to take a 83-77 overtime victory.
"Tonight was not one of our better nights," said senior guard Ben Hansbrough, hounded into a 3-of-16 shooting effort. "This will be almost like a learning experience for us.
"I think it will be good for us in the long run."
Notre Dame, which had lost only one game – at West Virginia – the previous 52 days, returns home 26-6 to await word on its next challenge in the NCAA Tournament.
The chance at a No. 1 seed remains, but getting over this one, though, might take some time. The Irish had invested so much in getting to Saturday that they were left with a whole lot of emptiness.
Only the sound a shower running somewhere in the background could heard in the locker room.
"We’re just really disappointed," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "We really wanted to try and get to Saturday night here. It’s kind of a crushing blow."
With the stakes immense and intense, 40 minutes weren’t enough.
For the sixth time in the last 10 meetings between the teams, including the second this season, overtime was needed. The teams also played overtime last month in South Bend, a 10-point Irish win.
All five Irish starters scored double figures led by a career game from senior Scott Martin, who had 21 points. But after scoring 46 points in the first half, the fourth-ranked Irish managed only 26 in the second half, then five in overtime.
"They took us out of a flow a little bit," Brey said. "They bothered us."
Notre Dame was left to pick up the pieces. Louisville (25-8), ranked 14th nationally, finished with a 49-35 rebounding advantage, which included 23 offensive rebounds that turned into 21 second-chance points.
"We just didn’t rebound," Martin said. "We didn’t keep them off the offensive glass. That’s the difference in the game.
"It’s going to be hard to swallow for a while, but we’ll get over it."
A pair of Preston Knowles free throws tied it at 66 with 2:47 remaining in regulation – the first tie since it was 2-2. It was tied again at 68 after more free throws from each team. And when Knowles tipped in a shot with 1:52 to play, Louisville led, 70-68, for the first time since it was 21-20 with 10:52 left in the first half.
Martin tied it at 70 with a tough inside move. It was tied again at 72 with under a minute to play after a Carleton Scott layup. Scott grabbed a defensive rebound with 26.5 seconds remaining to give the Irish a chance to win it at the end of regulation.