For the first 39 minutes of regulation, Louisville-Notre Dame was as unremarkable a February league game you could find. Both offenses had struggled to the point where, when Russ Smith dunked to give the Cardinals a 55-48 lead, the contest seemed over. The only certainties looked to be the Under and that the viewing audience would forget about it about 10 seconds after it ended. Then, it elevated to legend, and the only certainty now is it will be the game of the 2012-13 season.
Jerian Grant, who had gone without a field goal until that final minute of regulation, made a three-pointers. Then another three. Then a ridiculous three with a defender draped all over him. Then he got frisky and went to the tin, drawing the harm to go with the hoop and suddenly the game was level at 60. Twelve points in a 23-second span and a game that was basically over was now headed to overtime.
Then it kept going ... and going ... and going. All that was missing by the middle of the fifth overtime was the Energizer Bunny thumping its way across the clover at midcourt. Irish players kept fouling out. Louisivlle kept clanking game-winning shots. By the end of the madness, Grant's final-minute heroics were about the 27th craziest thing that happened. It was so nuts, so comical, so incredible, and generated so many questions, both for the game and potentially where these teams are now headed.
I'm generally a proponent of not overcoaching and I think teams with a gifted penetrator have an advantage when they don't call timeout and allow a defense to set up, but at some point, didn't Pitino have to rein in Russ Smith? Or at least provide him with some structure? Russdiculousness can be a good thing, but tonight, it bled into the absurd as the same bad possession happened over and over. Smith played those final possessions like there were degree of difficulty points available, but the Russian judge (along with the Irish defenders) remained unimpressed.
I can't think of a game with so many overtimes where the same team had the last possession with a chance to win (or, in the last overtime, a chance to tie) and had the same guy take the shot every time. Missed jumpers. Missed layup attempts. Mishandled dribbles. The Russ Smith Experience displayed every facet in those vignettes and showed the risk of riding such an unpredictably exciting player.
Garrick Sherman entered Saturday's contest having played a total of 29 minutes in the Irish's last eight games, with two total points in his four appearances. He didn't enter the Louisville game until the first overtime, and then posted a remarkable 17 points and six rebounds (four offensive) in 23 minutes. The Michigan State transfer had a series of enormous buckets, none bigger than the crazy tip-in that helped force the fifth overtime. Yo, Mike Brey, is Sherman just horrible in practice? Your frontcourt's good, but depth is nice and all. What a remarkable star turn.
The over/under is set at approximately zero. Maybe it happened in a blowout or something. Jack Cooley and Tom Knight both fouled out in regulation. Jerian Grant was DQ'd in the first overtime. In a game that lasted 65 minutes, none of those players even logged 40. The Irish reserves played a total of 107 minutes. Cameron Biedscheid played 50 all by himself. 50 minutes off the bench! It felt like the Irish were playing a bunch of guys from their rec gym down the stretch, but they got it done. Amazing.
Sherman's overtime march was obviously incredible and Chane Behanon (30 points, 15 rebounds in 56 minutes) was a beast for the Cardinals, but the pick here is Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton. The 6-foot-5 wing also went 56 minutes, playing a huge chunk of overtime with whomever came off the Irish bench. He finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds (including huge offensive ones in overtime), seven assists and ... one turnover. One turnover?? Against Louisville?? In a five-overtime game???? Sensational.
Anyway, in the breathless aftermath, it's difficult to have any real long-term perspective on what this means for both teams, but the result definitely has meaning. Louisville probably should rethink its end-game execution, and the loss in a game it should have won puts another dent in its Big East title and NCAA seeding aspirations. Notre Dame gets a sensational win and maybe found out it has more options than it thought.
What's more important: After the fifth overtime game (and third multi-overtime game) between the schools in the past four seasons, they are scheduled to play again, in Louisville, on March 9. More madness anyone?