Sunday March 22nd, 2015

Two teams from a basketball-crazy state and with dreams of returning home for the Final Four played the best NCAA tournament game of the day on Saturday. By the time it ended early on Sunday morning, Notre Dame was moving on to the Sweet 16 and Butler was returning to Indiana after a 67-64 overtime thriller in the Midwest Regional.

Pat Connaughton, the Fighting Irish senior with the Batman socks, came to the rescue for No. 3 seed Notre Dame, blocking a potential game-winning three-point attempt out of bounds with less than a second remaining and then draining a three-pointer—his only one of the night—to put the Irish in front 62-59 in the extra session. Steve Vasturia added another three with 1:25 left for a 65-61 lead and Jerian Grant's attacking layup as the shot clock expired and 21 seconds remained on the game clock sealed the win.

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Notre Dame's perimeter shooting showed up just in time. The Irish average eight made threes a game on better than 39% shooting but made only 4 of 17 in regulation (23.6%) and had a five-minute field goal drought midway through the second half that allowed Butler to turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead at 47-41 with 9:37 to go. The Hoosier State teams traded blows the rest of the way. Notre Dame went in front on a Connaughton layup at the 6:08 mark, only to have the sixth-seeded Bulldogs regain the lead on a three-pointer from Andrew Chrabascz. Two Zach Auguste layups restored a 53-50 advantage for the Irish, but Kellen Dunham's three tied it at 55 with under three minutes to go.

Neither team scored the rest of regulation, though those final minutes were not without drama. Notre Dame turned it over three times, and Auguste had two of them. The last came when he was called for double-dribbling while trying to rush up court with two seconds left after a rebound. That gave Butler the ball in front of its own bench, and the Bulldogs ran a perfect play to get Dunham, a junior who shot 41% from three this season, a clean look in the corner. But Connaughton trailed him through screens and swatted the shot out of bounds. The referees put 0.6 seconds back on the clock but Kameron Woods couldn't convert a lob on the inbounds pass and the teams went to overtime.

Once there, Notre Dame finally resembled the team that leads the nation in effective field goal percentage. The Irish made 3 of 4 from the field in the extra period while Butler was 2 for 5, the last a meaningless dunk by Woods with two seconds left that provided the final score.

Vasturia finished with 20 for Notre Dame while Roosevelt Jones paced the Bulldogs with 23. 

It was a good day in Pittsburgh for the ACC and a tough one for the Big East. In Saturday's first game there, East No. 8 seed N.C. State eliminated No. 1 seed Villanova, the Big East's regular season and tournament champion, before the Irish, the ACC tournament champs, survived in the nightcap and kept their hopes of a Final Four trip to Indianapolis alive.

5:34 | College Basketball
Rising Stars: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

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