Feb 11, 2013, 5:39 PM EST
With 54 seconds remaining in regulation, Pat Connaughton missed a three-pointer, Chane Behanan came down with the rebound, and Tom Knight committed his fifth and final foul, sending the Louisville forward to the free throw line for an opportunity to put his team up by nine with under a minute remaining.
Or at least that’s what several hundred fans thought, as they started heading for the Purcell Pavilion exits. At my seat on the media row, I even began packing up my bag so I could get to the post-game press conference as soon as the final horn sounded.
As one of the most unforgettable moments in Fighting Irish history began to unfold, some of the 9,149 who were leaving the sellout crowd, found their way back to a seat in the arena.
But for many others, it was too late. They had already gotten into their cars or made their way back to the dorms.
Earlier today, I caught up with one of these students. We’ll call him Jamie O’Hara* – for anonymity’s sake. Like many others, he left with 51 seconds remaining (just before Behanan went to the free throw line).
“Since I don’t make it to every basketball game [as I do with football], I don’t have quite the same attachment to seeing a game start-to-finish. I basically decided that I wasn’t really up for watching another close game slip away, so I headed out early because I didn’t want to watch us lose anymore,” Jamie said.
Like it did for most of us, Grant’s electric performance in the frantic final minute came as a total shock. The junior guard had been having a tough night and had yet to make a shot from the field. Really, the whole team had been in an offensive slump and it looked like the Irish might not break the 50-point mark for the second consecutive game.
“I knew Grant had this sort of potential, but the way the game had gone, I figured tonight just wasn’t his, or the team’s, night. In the past year, I’ve seen ND be amazing – upsetting #1 Syracuse, dismantling Kentucky, and beating UConn on the road last season – but I’ve also seen games like UConn, St. Joe’s, and Georgetown this season, where they just didn’t have it on a given night. I figured Louisville was going to be another one of those ‘close but no cigar’ games. It turned out to be pretty much the opposite.”
After leaving, Jamie’s plan was to grab food at LaFortune, before going back to his dorm to find out what his friends were doing for the rest of the night.
“When I walked into the Huddle, I passed the big TV in the food court, and saw the game on ESPN,” he recalls. “I figured it was just post-game highlights, until I saw how focused everyone in the room was on the game and realized that I’d just made a big mistake.”
Not only was Jamie kicking himself for leaving early, but he had to deal with hearing about it from his parents. You see, the O’Haras live in South Bend and his parents, who are both ND graduates, have season tickets.
“Once it went into overtime and my parents’ couldn’t find me in the student section anymore, my mom texted me asking where I was. Since I had left, she spent all five OTs alternating between sending me updates and making fun of me for leaving.”
Though he was not there when the pandemonium ensued at 12:36 am on Sunday, luckily, he was able to catch all five overtimes, between the Huddle, his dorm room, and a friend’s room.
“I only left one place when an overtime ended, and booked it to my next destination during the commercials.”
In the same way that last season’s victory over Syracuse sparked a nine-game winning streak, Jamie is hoping that this win has a similar impact on the team’s performance down the stretch of the BIG EAST schedule.
“I can’t see myself leaving a game early again, especially against Louisville. Those games are usually pretty crazy, and I don’t know why I convinced myself this one was any different,” Jamie said.
“The biggest takeaway is that I didn’t give this year’s team they respect they deserved. They fought and scraped for 65 minutes and earned every point of that victory. It’s a great time to be a Notre Dame fan and student. I just ought to have more faith in the guys representing us on the court.”
* You may recall that O’Hara was heavily recruited throughout the country several years ago. He came to Notre Dame, and I suppose it’s safe to say his career has been a disappointment.
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