Wednesday night, the eighth ranked Fighting Irish fought off the ropes to earn an impressive 89-79 overtime victory against Big East rival and No. 16 Louisville.
The win gave Notre Dame its 20th victory this season, the earliest it has achieved the 20-win plateau in the history of a program, which has been around for more than a century. It's also the best start (20-4) under coach Mike Brey.
"That's a great achievement for us," said senior forward Carleton Scott, on being the quickest team to reach 20 wins in a calendar year. "Our work isn't done. We have to turnaround and play at South Florida (Saturday, noon EST), and take this show on the road."
"I thought we really defended better after the first half," commented ND coach Mike Brey. "Their transition really bothered us. We had a hard time keeping up with them."
Added Brey, "We certainly defended the last five minutes of the game to get to overtime, and then I thought we were fabulous in overtime. Our seniors finished the game and started the overtime because they felt they could win for us. It was a heck of a game. A lot of toughness and smarts by our group to get out of here with a win."
These type of big games are similar to a championship boxing match between two good fighters: It's a close fight—it can go either way—with just a minute left in the final round, and the fighters don't want the judges' scorecards deciding the outcome.
So both boxers let the punches go, throwing caution to the wind, hoping for a knockout.
"We didn't let anything get us down, even when they were knocking down shots," said Scott. "It was a good game. We knew it was going to be a dog-fight going in. We just had to keep our heads in it and do work."
The fighter with the most heart, the one who digs deepest, usually prevails.
"...I'm real proud of our guys because Notre Dame is one of the premier teams in the country and we went on the road and lost in overtime," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino
Appropriately, the Fighting Irish threw the deciding knockout blow in the final round, and Scott's personal flurry of punches in OT included nine of his team's 15 points and an electrifying two-hand slam dunk that sent the Cardinals reeling.
In this bout, like many others during this special Notre Dame season, the Irish had the most heart and the better punches when it counted.
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.