Eric Atkins has been Notre Dame's marathon man this season, ranking second nationally in minutes per game.
One more time — overtime
Notre Dame has played consecutive overtime games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season (Vanderbilt & Indiana), and it is the first time the Irish have ever played two straight overtime contests in Big East play. The team is 3-1 in overtime games this season and 9-2 in their last 11 overtime contests. Notre Dame is 13-9 in overtime in 13 seasons under head coach Mike Brey.
The Irish have played four overtime games this season for a combined 40 minutes of bonus time — the equivalent of an extra game on the schedule. Junior point guard Eric Atkins inched closer to Oakland’s Travis Bader for most minutes played per game in the nation after back-to-back overtime contests. Atkins is averaging 38.36 mpg and Bader is at 38.42. Providence junior Bryce Cotton, whom the Irish will face Saturday, is 11th on the list at 37.36. UConn junior Shabazz Napier is the only other Big East player in the top 25 in that category, ranking 25th with 36.57 mpg.
"We have learned that we are in great shape and that we can play through being tired,” senior forward Jack Cooley said. “We know all of our situations because we go through them a hundred times in practice. We just have to go out there and play well."
College hoops fans this season have gotten their money’s worth. Every time one blinks there is a new No. 1 team. There also have been exhilarating buzzer-beaters and games that have lasted two days. And with five games left for Notre Dame (20-5, 8-4 Big East) on the conference schedule, the program now finds itself just a half game behind league leaders Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette — each with 8-3 records. Notre Dame is one of three Big East teams to boast 20 victories along with Syracuse (20-4) and Pittsburgh (20-5, 8-4.
Louisville, which is tied for sixth with Connecticut at 7-4, was the unanimous choice to in the regular-season championship by the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, followed by Syracuse and Notre Dame. Cincinnati (7-5) and Georgetown rounded out the top five. Marquette and Pitt have benefitted from weaker schedules, and of the teams among the top five right now, the Fighting Irish probably have the toughest stretch remaining. Notre Dame heads to Providence Saturday, followed by a visit to Pitt on Feb. 18, a home game against Cincinnati Feb. 24 and trips to Marquette and Louisville sandwich a final home game against St. Johns in March.
"This is a huge stretch for us, especially with us starting to move up in the standings,” Atkins said. “I think that we are mainly focused on just trying to get another league win on Saturday. We will think about Monday when it comes. Providence is a good team, especially when you play them at home."
Providence a program of streaks
The Friars have had two cruising altitudes this season — barely above the trees and just below the stratosphere. Providence started the year with three straight wins, followed by two losses and a five-game win streak in nonconference play. The Friars dropped their final two non-league games and first three Big East contests for another five-game slide. The end of January featured a three-game skid, followed by a February start of three straight wins. Providence beat Villanova and Cincinnati by a combined seven points and knocked off South Florida 76-66 in its last outing on Feb. 13. Like DePaul did against Notre Dame Wednesday night, the Friars overcame a 14-point deficit against the Bulls.