Notre Dame avoids early exit from NCAAs with win over Northeastern
Notre Dame entered Thursday’s NCAA opener against Northeastern having lost four first-round tournament games under coach Mike Brey. The Irish made sure to avoid a fifth early exit this time around, beating the Huskies 69-65 in Pittsburgh and locking in a spot in the Round of 32. Irish forward Zach Auguste made a key steal and hit two free throws in the final moments to seal the win.
Notre Dame looked like it might not face a test early in the first half. The Irish jumped out to a 7-3 lead as Northeastern started the game 1-for-6 from the field.
But the Huskies, whose offense was one of the best in the Colonial Athletic Association, fought back. A Scott Eatherton dunk with 12:13 left until halftime gave Northeastern a 11-9 lead. Later in the half, Zach Stahl hit a layup for a 22-20 advantage with 5:29 until the break.
At intermission, the Irish held a 31-27 edge after shooting 54.5% from the floor. All-America guard Jerian Grant finally found his shooting touch for Notre Dame late in the first half, notching nine points before the break.
In the second half, the Irish started playing like a team that had two wins over Duke and another over North Carolina in the regular season. Notre Dame hardly let up on the gas, leading by as many as 12 points for much of the half.
But a put-back layup by Eatherton with 32.5 seconds left cut Notre Dame’s lead to 67-65. After a defensive stand, Northeastern got the ball back for a go-ahead possession. But Auguste snagged a steal, was fouled and knocked down two big free throws to give the Irish a 69-65 lead. It was a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Northeastern had no answer for Auguste (25 points), and Grant finished with 17 points for Notre Dame. The Irish shot 57% from the floor.
The win gives Notre Dame coach Mike Brey 30 victories on the year, the most of his 15 seasons in South Bend. It's also the most wins for Notre Dame in a season since 1908-09. Now the Irish will play the winner of Butler and Texas in the Round of 32, hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.