Whatever it Takes

Connaughton (left) was all over the court

Notre Dame played nearly two games over the weekend, and however thrilling, the victory counted just once in the Big East standings. But the momentum gained from the gut-check thriller should prove invaluable for a 19-5 squad, not to mention its previously struggling swingman who helped bring home the win through 56 grueling minutes and myriad defensive assignments.

Though not ideal, it was fitting that one of Sunday morning's heroes, Notre Dame sophomore swingman Pat Connaughton, split his final pair of free throws rather than draining the pair with 9.8 seconds left.

Fitting because his crucial second shot that rang true gave the Irish a rare three-point lead in a contest Notre Dame never led by as much as four despite playing 65 minutes and prevailing in a 104-101 quintuple overtime marathon.

In a game that involved 26 lead change and 16 more ties, Notre Dame never led by more than one shot. The Irish led for less than three minutes in the second half, and for just over five minutes of the five overtimes.

But they prevailed, and in doing, stayed in the thick of the wide open Big East Conference race.

"It mentally and physically drains you," said Connaughton. "When it comes down to (winning) I don't think you even feel it. You want more overtimes until you get that chance to win."

Asked jokingly if he'd ever played a five overtime thriller before, Connaughton noted, "In grade school I was in a five overtime game, but we lost. I'm throwing that one away and moving onto this one."

This one has a touch more national appeal and relevance.

"I think we made a statement tonight, an extremely bold statement for our team and thats what we were looking to do," said Connaughton of the team's first win over a Top 25 foe since January 7. "At Syracuse, we didn't play as tough as we wanted to. You could say the shots didn't go down, but we still didn't show toughness. That's what we did tonight for sure."

Connaughton's shots still didn't go down, just as they haven't over any of the last four games. But if a definition is needed for "winning basketball" that's what Connaughton produced Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Playing 56 of the game's 60 minutes including all 25 of the five overtimes, the sophomore swingman scored 16 points, ripped down a career-high 14 rebonds, dished out 7 assists, and committed just one turnover while knocking down 7 of 9 shots from the charity stripe in an evening when his team missed 16.

Most of his damage was done following a first-half sprain of his right ankle, one cased in ice and elevated for post-game interviews.

"By the end of the second half I couldn't feel it anymore, so I figured it was fine," he said of playing through pain. "Adrenaline took over, but when the game ended, I couldn't go anymore."

Connaughton watched the frenzied post-game celebration he helped create from a safe distance. Relief and satisfaction replacing elation, coupled with exhaustion.

"I was too tired. I couldn't move my leg," said Connaughton of his tempered reaction. "I was in that last year (in an upset win of #1 Syracuse), so I stayed off to the side, saw a few close friends, and walked away with Eric (Atkins). Walking off the court with him, he played 60 minutes, it was a special moment."

Among the Giants

Almost as special as Connaughton's efforts away from the ball. The 6'5" swingman guarded Louisville's best shooter (and highly underrated player) 6'6" Luke Hancock. He likewise defended fleet-footed 6'2" guard Kevin Ware. He also was asked, thanks to foul disqualifications of centers Jack Cooley and Tom Knight, to match one-on-one against 6'11" Louisville center, Gorgui Deng.

"It was a matter of getting lower then him, but I just wanted to rebound," said Connaughton of his overtime defensive assignment. "With Jack not in there, I think the coaches wanted the same thing. They knew I could cover him if I just played tougher."

When the Irish switched to a 2-3 zone, Connaughton was on the low block, leaping among the trees for contested boards (10 defensive). The previously struggling sophomore was prepared for anything Saturday and Sunday presented because of what Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey put him through during the week.

"There was a toughness about him tonight, that (defines) him. It wasn't there maybe as much (at Syracuse) and I knew he was ready to bounce back."

The next step, after healing an injured ankle and recovering from more than 1.5 basketball games played over the weekend, will be for Connaughton, one of the two best shooters on the squad, to rediscover his shot.

He hit just 1 of 7 three-point attempts vs. the Cardinals and has missed 16 of his last 18, that on the heels of hitting 13 of 26 in previous league play.

When Connaughton struggled with his shot at times as a freshman last winter, he turned to YouTube clips of future Basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson for inspiration. Now he need only to look within.

"We pretty much lost the game yesterday and won it today," he said early Sunday morning in an unusually cramped interview room. "I didn't want to be the team that lost this game."

As for Wednesday's matchup vs. DePaul, a game that counts the same as Saturday's epic in the league standings?

"Its easy to build from this. We just won a five overtime game. We'll be pretty hyped."

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