For the second straight game, 40 minutes wasn’t enough for the Notre Dame men’s basketball. And for the second consecutive time against Big East Conference foe DePaul, an extra frame was required. Just as they did on Feb. 2 in Chicago, the Fighting Irish escaped with an overtime victory over the Blue Demons, this time with an 82-78 win at home Wednesday night.
Jerian Grant led the Irish with 21 points in an overtime win against visiting DePaul
Notre Dame improved to 20-5 overall and 8-4 in league play, making it a program record seventh 20-win season in a row for Irish head coach Mike Brey. With Connecticut knocking off league-leading and sixth-ranked Syracuse Wednesday, 66-58, the congestion at the top of the Big East standings is now thicker. Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette are all tied for first with 8-3 records, with the Irish tied with Syracuse for the fourth spot.
Coming off a five-overtime win over visiting Louisville Saturday, the Irish led by as many as 14 points in the first half before 10 turnovers and an extended shooting drought in the second period helped a scrappy DePaul outfit rally back and eventually take the lead near the end of regulation.
"I'm thrilled we escaped that one," Brey said. "But really give DePaul credit. They're hard to guard for us. They were in Chicago, and we had to escape. And they were in the second half tonight also. Their ball pressure defensively really rattled us, and we couldn't get much in the second half — the combination of both. I'm very proud of my team.
"Given everything they did Saturday night, to be on the ropes again and dig out another one, that's really as big a win as Saturday. When you can turn around and dig one out when it doesn't look good at times. But we certainly have been in that situation a few times. When we came into the huddle, we've been there done that, sitting there getting ready to play another overtime."
The Blue Demons (10-14, 1-10), which trailed for the majority of the contest, went on an 11-1 run when the Irish had gone nearly six minutes without a field goal. DePaul took a 60-58 advantage after a Cleveland Melvin jumper and kept the lead with a Crockett 3-pointer.
Notre Dame junior guard Jerian Grant completed a 3-point play, followed up by classmate Eric Atkins triple to swing the advantage back in the home team’s favor, 66-63, with just over three minutes remaining in the second half. DePaul tied it up with a deep shot by Melvin and a free throw by Young with 51.8 seconds left. Notre Dame wasted two opportunities for potentially game-winning shots when poor attempts from Atkins and Grant late in the shot clock missed their marks.
In overtime, Irish sophomore guard Pat Connaughton, who played 30 minutes on an ankle he sprained Saturday, drilled a 3-pointer and made two foul shots, Grant added another 3-point play and the Irish went 9-for-11 from the foul line to put the game away. The Irish shot 39.1 percent in the second half (9-for-23) from the field, 75 percent (3-for-4) in overtime and finished exactly 50 percent for the game (28-for-56).
Four days after lifting his team in the final minute of regulation against the Cardinals with a 12-point outburst, Grant ended the game with a team-high 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Senior forward Jack Cooley chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds and Atkins notched 13 points and nine assists.
"It's tough coming off that five-overtime game, but a win is a win," Grant said. "DePaul, their record won't say it, but they're a good time and they can score the ball. When they're in transition they're one of the best teams in the BIG EAST.
"... "It was really important [to get back-to-back wins]. Just coming off that game, we could've been tired and just said we'll let one get away. For this team to come back and go into another overtime and pull it out is definitely mentally tough."
Melvin played all 40 minutes for DePaul and registered a game-high 23 points, followed by Brandon DeYoung, who was 3-for-4 from behind the arc en route to 20 points, and Donnavan Kirk (16).
The Irish, happy to "survive and advance," Brey said, outscored DePaul 21-4 at the foul line, 14-6 in second-chance points, 20-7 in bench points and outrebounded the Blue Demons 44-25.
"Somebody said, 'Well, are you going to rest Connaughton Wednesday and save him for the weekend?' said Brey, eluding to how difficult it is to win against any team in the highly competitive Big East. "I said, 'What?' I said, 'I need all my guys in this league.' Our margin for error, as you've seen, it's like this [holds up fingers close together]. We need all hands on deck, so everything is survive and advance. That's why we were burning one time. We'll do everything we need to do to get a league win. I don't care if it's against a team that's 8-2 or 2-8. Just do what you've got to do to get a league win."
Notre Dame showed no signs of weary legs from its marathon bout with Louisville Saturday — at least not in the first half — getting everyone involved and capitalizing on defensive stands to build 43-32 advantage at the break. The Irish shot 55.3 percent in the first 20 minutes, including a 3-for-6 effort from behind the arc and 8-for-10 at the foul line. Grant led the way with nine points, Cooley added eight and six boards and Atkins chipped in eight points and six assists. Freshman reserve forward Cameron Biedscheid was 2-for-3 from the field and 3-for-4 at the stripe for seven points and classmate Zach Auguste (forward) and senior center Garrick Sherman combined for 4-for-5 shooting with four points apiece.
After trading the lead for the first few minutes, an Atkins triple tied things up at 10-10 and the game remained tight for the next several possessions. Biedscheid got a home bounce on a long jumper, Cooley hit a pair of free throws and Grant was good on two charity attempts to kick off a 25-16 run to finish the half. Notre Dame, which heads to Providence Saturday, won the battle on the boards through the first 20 minutes (21-11).