March 19, 2015
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Notre Dame was rocked on its heels on Thursday, a team with designs on playing another weekend or two staring straight into the grim prospect of an early exit.
The Irish held on, though, because they could hold on to the ball.
Zach Auguste scored 25 points, Jerian Grant added 17 and Notre Dame dodged a scare trying to erase its futile NCAA Tournament history with a 69-65 win over Northeastern on Thursday.
The Fighting Irish (30-5) will play No. 6 seed Butler on Saturday.
”I told them in the locker room, we weren’t going to beat them by 15,” coach Mike Brey said. ”So don’t anybody walk out of here feeling we should have won by 15.”
The Colonial Athletic Association champion Huskies played with the 40 minutes of grit needed to avoid a crushing defeat like so many other double-digit seeds throughout tournament history.
But the Huskies finally collapsed with sloppy play over the final minutes that ended the upset bid.
The final possession was the costliest one.
The Huskies chased down the loose ball after an inbound pass was wildly thrown away by the Irish. Out of timeouts, Northeastern passed the ball five times on its final game-tying possession. Zach Stahl frantically waved his arms when he fought his way open under the basket, yet no teammate saw him.
Quincy Ford coughed up the ball, and ended the Huskies’ last-gasp effort at pulling off the shocker.
Auguste, who made 10 of 14 shots, sealed it with two free throws.
”The clutchest free throws of his career,” Notre Dame forward Pat Connaughton said.
The Huskies are left wondering if they could have won had they not burned their timeouts.
”It would have helped if we would have had one more timeout,” forward Scott Eatherton said. ”I think we could have really got a play in. I’m not really sure what happened at the very end.”
All those fans that love rooting for the double-digit seeds to play spoiler in March had to be rooting for Northeastern. But the Huskies were sloppy late, finishing with 16 turnovers. The Irish made only seven.
Eatherton was in a perfect spot on the block and put back a missed 3 to make it 67-65 with 32.5 seconds left. Even with foul trouble, he came up big down the stretch for the Huskies. Eatherton pushed forward with four fouls and his layup at the 2-minute mark made it 65-61, inching the Huskies closer to their first NCAA Tournament win in more than 30 years.
Grant, though, picked Ford clean and went all the way for a dunk that made it 67-61.
Northeastern was fired up from tip as it chased a small slice of March history. Walker pounded his chest in exultation after his 3 on the second possession and the Huskies never let Notre Dame’s lead grow to more than five points.
”I didn’t think there was any fear factor going into the game,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said.
Walker’s second 3 of the half evened the score at 18-all and the Huskies positioned for a 14 seed to win a game for the third straight season. The Irish finally snapped out of their first-half funk and ended the half on a 9-3 run to head into halftime with a 31-27 lead.
The Irish shot a solid 55 percent in the first half and attempted only two 3s.
Guard Demetrius Jackson took a stiff hit to the face late in the game. ”I’ll be fine for the game,” he said. ”It was difficult to see during the game.”
The Irish will play Butler on Saturday at Pittsburgh’s Consol Center.