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A 'Magical' Night In South Bend

If you prematurely turned off your television set or left Purcell Pavilion before the end of regulation early Saturday night, you probably learned a hard lesson about faith. The No. 25 Notre Dame men’s basketball team certainly believes after watching junior Jerian Grant walk on water for 45 seconds and a cast of reserves fight to extend and eventually finish off a five-overtime thriller against Louisville.

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“I've been coaching for a long time," Irish coach Mike Brey said, "and you can count on one hand the ones where you go, 'That's magical.

“The one thing I told our team before we went out the last time, I said, this nucleus, when there's been hyped up games — Syracuse last year, Kentucky earlier this year — they've delivered on these stages, in this building, when there's a lot expected. I thought they did that. They just kept finding ways. Something like this you can certainly build on. We're going to use that to build our confidence and toughness and never feel we're out of it."

By now you already know that the 104-101 victory was both the longest regular-season game in the history of the Big East Conference and the longest contest in Notre Dame (19-5, 7-5 Big East) hoops annals. It was the fifth NCAA Division I game to go to five overtimes since the 1996-97 season and the seventh time in the last 11 meetings the two teams went to at least one extra stanza. All four of Grant’s field goals came in the final minute of regulation, when he poured in three triples and a three-point play for 12 of his 19 points. It's a tone-setting win for the final stretch, which includes seven more Big East contests to build Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament resume.

But here are a few more interesting tidbits from the epic showdown that likely solidified many more visits from ESPN College GameDay in future years:

• Many Notre Dame students began camping out at Purcell Friday night to be party of the GameDay telecast throughout the day Saturday. By the time they left at roughly 1 a.m. Sunday, they had spent the better part of a weekend to be counted among the 9,149 people in attendance.

• John Gaffney officiated the 2p.m. DePaul-Marquette game earlier in the day in Milwaukee (an 89-78 Marquette win) before heading to South Bend for what turned out to be a 65-minute contest between the Irish and Cardinals. We can’t say for certain, but that’s surely a record for a referee — 105 game minutes on the clock in the same day.

• In his eight previous games dating back to the 65-58 home loss to Connecticut on Jan. 12, Irish senior center Garrick Sherman was 0-for-7 from the field in 29 combined minutes. He played 22 Saturday — all in the overtimes — and was 7-for-10 from the field en route to 17 points.

• What got lost in both team’s poor shooting efforts from the field and the foul line in regulation was the spectacular job Notre Dame did defensively against one of the best point guards in the country. Senior Peyton Siva, who ranks third in the Big East with six assists per game is averaging 9.1 points per contest after helping guide the Cardinals to a Big East tournament title and a run to the Final Four last season, was limited to just two points and four assists. He was scoreless in Louisville’s 24-point first half — the lowest-scoring half by a Notre Dame Big East opponent since South Florida scored 19 in the second half of last season's league tournament quarterfinal contest (a 57-53 Irish overtime win).

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• Junior point guard Eric Atkins matched a Notre Dame record by playing 60 minutes, tying Chris Thomas, who played 60 minutes in Notre Dame’s four-overtime win at Georgetown (116-111) on Feb. 9, 2002.

• With three starters out of the game for most of the bonus time, sophomore guard Pat Connaughton ended the long night with 16 points and 14 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and second of his career.

• Fans had a chance to rush the court twice over the marathon day, the first time coming before noon when a student hit a half-court shot worth $18,000.

• At the team hotel Friday night, Brey showed a collection of film clips of famous boxing knockouts, topped off by Muhammad Ali standing over a motionless opponent on the canvas. The film was given to Brey by former Notre Dame student and current professional fighter Mike Lee.

"A lot of people, when they think about Notre Dame, they think about 3-point shooters and not really toughness,” Grant said. “Coach gave us the boxing gloves and was like, 'Here, show them how tough you guys are.'"

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