SOUTH BEND -- Seated in a quiet section of the locker room after an improbable evening had unfolded inside Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame senior captain Ty Nash wondered aloud.
“We just made history?” Nash said in a voice barely above a whisper. “We ... made … history? I’m a part of history?”
The No. 8 Irish and Nash savored an 89-79 overtime victory over No. 16 Louisville that delivered to Notre Dame its 20th victory this season, the earliest in the calendar year in the history of a program that has been around for over 100 years. It’s also the best start (20-4) under coach Mike Brey.
“A lot of toughness and smarts by our group to get out of here with a win,” Brey said. “It was not an easy one for us.”
Again making enough big plays when the game was there for the taking, senior captain Ben Hansbrough, now pushing really hard for conference player of the year recognition, led the Irish with 25 points. He also had six rebounds and helped will the home team to just a find a way. Somehow.
“This is one of the wins I’m going to remember the rest of my life,” Hansbrough said. “First thing I said when I ran into the locker room was, ‘That’s what you call heart, fellas.’ I don’t think I could have said it any better.”
Tim Abromaitis provided 23 points and eight rebounds. He scored 13 points after halftime, including seven straight early in the second half. He also provided a little lockdown defense, hounding Cardinals guard Preston Knowles into a 5-for-17 shooting night.
“I was trying to do everything myself,” Knowles said. “Having not played in the last game (against DePaul), it got to be too much.”
Quiet and maybe a little unsure of his shot much of the night, Carleton Scott finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. He electrified the crowd with nine points in overtime, including an emphatic two-hand dunk that all but put a bow on this big win.
“We had to grind and fight it,” Scott said. “We’ve been down big before. It seems like we’ve been saying that a lot. That just goes to show we know how to work and grind it out.”
That Wednesday’s game needed overtime should have been a surprise to no one. During this stretch dubbed “Rivalry Week” by ESPN, Notre Dame might have finally found one within the Big East. Wednesday marked the fourth time in the last seven meetings and five of the last nine between the schools that regulation solved nothing.
It was Notre Dame’s first overtime win over Louisville and second overtime win this season - the Irish beat Georgia in double overtime in November. It was the first overtime home game (and win) for Notre Dame since pushing past Providence on Jan. 31, 2008.
On an evening when so much went wrong for Notre Dame, which was unable to guard effectively for extended stretches, unable to connect on the easiest of shots and unable to pull away from a team that wouldn’t let it, it suddenly all went right. In a really big way.
“We could have easily folded,” Nash said. “But we found it inside us. It’s something we have inside that won’t let us lose, especially in this place.”
Able to deny Louisville on the final possession of regulation, when a 2-3 zone defense forced Knowles into a tough and contested 3, the Irish embraced the opportunity at a second chance, and then sailed away in the extra session.
Notre Dame scored the first 14 points of the five-minute period. That allowed the home team to stretch its Purcell Pavilion win streak to 15 consecutive games this season and keep pace with league-leading Pittsburgh at 9-3. Notre Dame remains alone in second place in the Big East.
Notre Dame trailed by as many as eight in the first half and by four with 3:43 remaining before again finding a way to make it all work. It was a one-possession game for all the final 9:37. The Irish were down two with 62 seconds when Nash stepped to the foul line.
Like most of his teammates, Nash had struggled to find any sort of rhythm on a night where there was so little to go around. Nash had missed three previous free throws, then stepped to the line with the chance to tie the game.
This, Nash thought to himself, would help smooth the previous struggles. Nash connected on both to make it 74-all.
“That’s all the hard work in the gym,” Nash said. “I’m glad they went in and glad I’m talking about a ‘W’ right now.”
Notre Dame held on one of the last possessions of regulation, only to have a missed Cardinal shot bounce off Hansbrough’s outstretched hand and give the visitors one chance with two really bad options for the home team -- either Louisville would win it at the buzzer or send it to overtime.
Overtime, it turned out, was exactly what the Irish needed. Once Notre Dame’s zone held and the final horn sounded, Brey stormed toward his players and saw a different look - one he hadn’t seen much of the game - in their eyes.
“We were probably like, ‘We’re probably lucky to be here, so now let’s win it,’” Brey said.
There was life. There was confidence. There was belief. Fourteen consecutive points later, there was no doubt. This one was over.
“We got things going,” Hansbrough said. “We were due.”
LOUISVILLE (18-6): Terrence Jennings 7-11 0-2 14, Preston Knowles 5-17 0-0 13, Peyton Siva 4-9 0-1 9, Chris Smith 3-8 2-2 8, Kyle Kuric 9-14 6-6 28, George Goode 1-2 0-0 2, Elisha Justice 1-2 0-0 2, Mike Marra 1-1 0-0 3, Stephan Van Treese 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-64 8-11 79.
NOTRE DAME (20-4): Ty Nash 2-6 3-6 7, Tim Abromaitis 6-13 9-9 23, Carleton Scott 5-11 5-7 16, Scott Martin 2-8 1-2 6, Ben Hansbrough 9-17 2-4 25, Eric Atkins 1-3 0-0 2, Jack Cooley 5-5 0-0 10. Totals 30-63 20-28 89.
Halftime - Louisville 44-40. End Of Regulation - Tied 74. 3-Point Goals - Louisville 9-21 (Kuric 4-7, Knowles 3-7, Marra 1-1, Siva 1-3, C. Smith 0-3), Notre Dame 9-20 (Hansbrough 5-10, Abromaitis 2-4, Scott 1-2, Martin 1-3, Atkins 0-1). Fouled Out - Jennings. Rebounds - Louisville 30 (Jennings 7), Notre Dame 42 (Abromaitis, Scott 8). Assists - Louisville 19 (Siva 7), Notre Dame 16 (Atkins 6). Total Fouls - Louisville 19, Notre Dame 12. Technical - Kuric. A - 8,659.Staff writer Tom Noie: email@example.com 574-235-6153