March 22, 2015
Saturday, March 21, 2015
It’s cloudy and 45 degrees in Pittsburgh as the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team begins another game day.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review headline reads, “Irish look to reverse trend vs. Butler.” Irish coach Mike Brey is quoted as saying, “I erased all the seeds on Selection Show night. I don’t think it matters much. These are two good teams going after it.” The Irish are the subject of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece by columnist Gene Collier, with the headline, “Brey focuses on mixing right Irish stew.”
The morning starts with the usual breakfast buffet at 10:30 a.m. at the Irish second-floor headquarters at the Sheraton Station Square . . . Tricia Bellia, Notre Dame’s chair of the Faculty Board on Athletics, joins the group after arriving late Friday night . . . The Irish sold their entire ticket allotment of 550 for tonight’s game.
Breakfast conversation revolves around a New York Times story on the bright Under Armour shoes worn in six straight wins by the Irish. The Notre Dame squad spends a half-hour looking at film after the meal.
Irish team chaplain Rev. Pete McCormick says, “I feel like we’ve been here so long I’m an honorary Pittsburghian.”
At 11:45 a.m. the team takes its bus to the Palumbo Center at Duquesne University for an hour-long shoot-around. The Irish could have had access to the Consol Energy Center floor, but the available time slot was not until later in the afternoon and Notre Dame coach Mike Brey preferred to have his team work earlier and then get off its feet until the 5:30 p.m. pregame meal.
At 7:47 p.m. the Irish band and cheerleaders get the crowd revved up inside the Sheraton, with members of the Notre Dame Club of Pittsburgh also on hand. The ban plays inside the hotel lobby, with the sound reverberating through the pitched glass roof.
7:54 p.m.— Jerian Grant is the first player to exit the hotel as he strides forcefully onto the bus.
7:55 p.m. — Brey takes his normal seat on the left side, second row back.
7:57 p.m. —Assistant Anthony Solomon is the last to enter the bus. The band comes outside to play another number and the Irish roll with their motorcycle escort with siren blaring. “Let’s go Irish” can be heard in the background. The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” plays on the bus radio.
8:07 p.m. — There are two minutes left in the first half of the Villanova-North Carolina State game when Notre Dame pulls up to the Consol Energy Center. Pat Connaughton gives strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski his usual playful punch as he’s the last player off the bus. Everyone else exits and Brey is the last to walk off. The Irish are in a different locker room than Thursday, this time next door to Villanova. The Georgetown-Utah game plays on the flat-screen television in the locker room. No one is in a rush to dress as yet. Video assistant Pat Rogers hooks up a laptop to record the game.
8:15 p.m. — Grant grabs a Powerade from the cooler. It’s halftime of the first game and you can hear the Villanova players next door getting themselves amped up for another 20 minutes.
8:17 p.m. — Ingelsby writes the Butler lineup on the white board, with uniform numbers, heights, weights and class years.
8:35 p.m. — The Irish players begin to get dressed and taped, and the music begins to thump. Grant still has not moved from his stool, while Demetrius Jackson is already completely dressed. The defensive keys on the board are (1.) limit Butler’s transition opportunities, (2.) attention to detail through their sets and (3.) win the rebounding battle. The offensive keys are (1.) run and attack, (2.) hard cuts and post feeds help the Irish move and (3.) work to get great shots. Butler’s Alex Barlow, Kellen Dunham and Austin Etherington are identified on the board as shooters, while Roosevelt Jones is noted as a driver.
8:38 p.m. — Brey wanders through the locker room, looks at the clock and chats with Connaughton.
8:42 p.m. – North Carolina State is up 10 with 14:06 to play. Connaughton changes the music and Grant finally starts to dress.
8:46 p.m. — Trainer Skip Meyer puts drops in Jackson’s eye that was poked on Thursday. “The sky is the limit” are the lyrics, and Connaughton mouths the words to the rap. He’s loose, bouncing, smiling and chatting.
8:55 p.m. — “Let’s go fellas, ” says Connaughton and the Irish head into the hallway to stretch with Rolinski. Now the locker room is silent as the coaches and support staffers watch the television screen. The only sound is the hum of the ventilation fans in the ceiling.
9:02 p.m. — TBS tees up footage of Brey entering the arena and Butler players dressing.
9:10 p.m. — With stretching concluded, Grant leads the clapping players back into the locker room. There are four minutes to go in the opener.
9:25 p.m. —The television is turned off and the players talk among themselves. When they are finished, Brey wheels into the room. “Somebody asked me today why I’m always smiling. I told them it’s because I’ve got a great team.” Brey reviews each Butler player and offers his own tips on how to defend them. “We have been really good with our transition defense. Let’s make them go against our half-court set . . . “Talk to each other, pick each other up, Let’s go . . . “
9:34 p.m. — The Wolfpack holds on to eliminate top seeded Villanova and the Atlantic Coast Conference run continues. ACC associate commissioner Paul Brazeau takes off his red tie and replaces it with another with blue and gold stripes. Both teams take the floor, and the public address announcer says tip will be at 10:04 p.m. Time for the “night stalkers” to get to work. Former Irish football star, Pittsburgh Steeler great and newly-minted Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis is seated in the second row behind the Notre Dame bench.
10:07 p.m. — Butler scores on its first two possessions, then Zach Auguste responds with a pair of free throws and Jackson knocks down a long three. The Irish lead.
10:11 p.m. — Steve Vasturia connects from the baseline and the Irish regain the lead. Then Grant nails a three and it’s 10-8 for Notre Dame. The Irish already have as many three-pointers in five minutes as they did all day against Northeastern.
10:16 p.m. — The first media timeout finally comes at the 11:44 mark in the fast-paced contest, with Notre Dame leading 14-12. Butler has hit six of 13 shots, Notre Dame knocked down five of its first 11. Another media timeout comes just 11 seconds later.
10:25 p.m. — The Irish are up six after a fast-break V.J. Beachem hoop. Butler is on a 3:41 drought at the 8:22 mark and it’s 20-12 now. Beachem scores again from lane and it’s 22-12.
10:28 p.m. — At the 7:19 media timeout the Irish are on an 8-0 run, with Butler at the line shooting free throws and not having scored for 4:44.
10:37 p.m. — At the 3:55 media timeout, the Irish lead 26-21 with Grant headed to the line for two free throws (he makes only the second).
10:45 p.m. — Jones notches his 12th and 13th points, the game is tied at 27 and Brey calls time at the 1:23 mark. The Irish end up leading 31-29 at the break.
10:53 p.m. — Back in the locker room the conversation among the players is about defending Jones who has 15. Says Brey, “All right, all right, all right. Way to come out of the timeout and finish. Be strong in the paint. We’ve got to move it around when they sink in back there. “I need somebody to guard Jones. I need somebody to guard Jones to advance.” It’s a weird first half, with neither Connaughton nor Dunham scoring and those two combining to go none for six shooting. The Irish hold Butler to .407 field-goal shooting. “Keep moving and cutting,” says Brey. “Our ball screens in the middle of the floor are great. Keep driving the ball when we have the angle.”
11:15 p.m.— The second half begins with a hoop from Grant. Jackson follows with a turnaround in the lane for a 35-31 edge. Vasturia is now on Jones.
11:21 p.m. — At the 15:00 media timeout Notre Dame retains a 37-34 advantage with the ball.
11:28 p.m. — Butler ties it at 41, then grabs the lead on another Jones lay-in at the 11:16 mark as Vasturia is called for the foul.
11:35 p.m. — Butler is on an 11-0 run over the last 4:05. Jones has 21 and Brey calls a timeout at the 9:27 stop. Notre Dame has connected on only two of its last nine shots.
11:41 p.m.— At the 7:58 media timeout, Butler retains a 47-42 edge. The Bulldogs have made only five of 19 shots this half, Notre Dame five of 18. Both teams currently are shooting 35 percent for the game. But Jackson hits a three out of the timeout.
11:46 p.m. — The Irish tie it at 47 on two Vasturia free throws and take the lead on Connaughton’s reverse layup. It’s an 8-0 run for Notre Dame. Butler calls time at 5:56, and the Bulldogs have not scored in the last 3:30.
11:52 p.m. — An Auguste rebound goal off a Connaughton miss makes it 53-50. Butler calls a 30-second timeout at 3:50. Notre Dame now has hit four of its last five shots.
11:54 p.m. — Dunham’s three ties it at 55. The two teams trade misses and the Irish call time with the ball with 1:40 remaining.
11:57 p.m. — The Irish turn it over, and the final media timeout comes at 1:13 with the Bulldogs in possession. But no one scores.
12:08 a.m.— Connaughton swats a Dunham try on a play that begins with 2.0 seconds remaining and the clock shows :00.6, and the Bulldogs can’t connect on a last-gasp attempt. Butler hits only two of its last 10 shots and doesn’t score in the final 2:58 of regulation. Notre Dame hits five of its last seven shots but has three turnovers and no points in the last 3:17.
12:12 a.m. — The overtime period begins and the Irish never trail. Vasturia hits two free throws six seconds into the overtime, Grant adds two free throws at 3:53, Connaughton breaks a tie with a three at 3:08, Vasturia hits a three at 1:22 and Grant drives for a hoop at :18 and the Irish prevail 67-64 after a meaningless Butler basket with four seconds remaining. Notre Dame holds Butler to 33 percent shooting for the night and outrebounds the Bulldogs 40-36. The Notre Dame defense holds Dunham to two-of-13 shooting and Barlow to one-of-six shooting. Auguste has 13 rebounds; Vasturia has 20 points and six rebounds and plays a critical role defending.
12:17 a.m. — When Connaughton knocks down his three from the corner, he’d been none for five from that distance to that point (he does have nine rebounds).
12:29 a.m. — Says Brey in the locker room, “Is it past midnight yet? That’s a heck of a birthday present. Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir! “We guarded to do it again, just like we defended in Greensboro. We’ve got five postseason wins because we defended. “So, where’s the trophy for the Pittsburgh tournament?” Brey’s wife Tish joined him the locker room, as the Irish players munched on pizza and chicken wings. “What a great college game and atmosphere,” said Brey, to no one in particular.
12:50 a.m. — As Vasturia and Grant are ready to had to the interview room, vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick gathers the team to inform them that Brey’s mother Betty died that morning. Father McCormick then says a prayer.
1:12 a.m. — In an ultra-classy move, Barlow stops by the Irish locker room to salute the Notre Dame players. The Butler Twitter account congratulates the Irish and wishes them well next week. 1:20 a.m. – Brey returns from the interview room to address another batch of media outside the locker room, talking mostly about his mother. The Irish coach will fly to Orlando Sunday and spend the day with his father, brother and sister. “I’ll smoke a cigar with my dad and we’ll watch the Kansas-Wichita State game,” he said.
1:24 a.m.— The Irish finally can shower with the locker room closed to media.
1:40 a.m. — Mike and Tish Brey walk out the back door of the Consol Energy Center after an awfully emotional day.
2 a.m. – The Notre Dame team enters the Sheraton to a big ovation from family and friends. It’s on to Cleveland for the NCAA Sweet 16.