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Three Key Takeaways:
- Mike Brey’s mother passed away this morning. How did he coach through that? Directly following one of the better games of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced that his 84 year-old mother died of a heart attack on Saturday morning. The news came as a true shock to everyone in the room, a heartbreaking announcement in the midst of an otherwise joyful moment for the Irish. He cited her competitiveness, the fact that she tried to turn Brey and his siblings into swimmers growing up – she was an Olympic swimmer in 1956 – and reflectively noted “she had a great run.” You have to wonder how the heavy-hearted coach managed to muster enough positive energy to lead his team to victory.
- The seniors put Notre Dame over the hump. Sophomore Steve Vasturia led the way with 20 points. Junior Zach Auguste secured a team-high 13 rebounds. Second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson made a serious of big plays to re-establish momentum in the second half. But it was the senior guards – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – who finally got Notre Dame over its postseason hump. Connaughton swatted Kellen Dunham’s game-winning three-point attempt to send the game into overtime, then drilled a big triple in the extra period to break a 59-59 tie. A few minutes later, his team up three, Grant made a slashing layup with 21 seconds left to season the Irish victory. Entering the night, Brey hadn’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 – the victim of six first-weekend exits over the past 11 years. His seniors weren’t going to let it happen again.
- The Irish were hellbent on shutting down Kellen Dunham, and it worked. Even if it meant surrendering buckets to Roosevelt Jones (who scored 23 points), Notre Dame was not going to let Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham beat it from behind the arc – especially not after his 20-point performance against Texas on Thursday. Irish defenders were draped all over the junior from opening tip to final buzzer, holding him to just 2-of-13 shooting and eight total points, well below his season average (16.7 PPG). The Bulldogs were never able to extend their second-half lead far enough to take firm control, and their leading-scorer’s lack of scoring may have been the reason why.
Star of the Game: Pat Connaughton (seven points, nine rebounds and a huge block). Forget about the statistics; Connaughton was the star tonight. His toughness and confidence and massive swat to end regulation carried Notre Dame to victory.