Mar 15, 2013, 2:54 AM EDT
As excited as Notre Dame might be to begin playing in the ACC, the Irish aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the BIG EAST yet.
Trailing 17-4 early against Marquette, it had the makings of a long night in the World’s Most Famous Arena. The shots weren’t falling (the team started 2-for-16 from the field) and it seemed like the only bright spots that had carried over from Wednesday night were the adidas shoes and uniforms.
But Notre Dame went on a 25-8 run and took a four-point lead into the locker room, before outlasting the Golden Eagles during a back-and-forth second half, securing a 73-65 win at Madison Square Garden.
There were five ties and 13 lead changes. It was the type of exciting game you would expect out of the final BIG EAST tournament (or “final BIG EAST tournament as we know it,” I should say).
During the team’s meeting on Thursday morning, head coach Mike Brey urged Jerian Grant to not let mistakes get in his head, or in his way of making the next big play. The junior guard obviously heard his coach’s advice, finishing the game with 17, to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
Coming off the bench, Garrick Sherman played 24 minutes and scored 16 points, including 10 in the second half.
And for the second straight night, it was Pat Connaughton who led Notre Dame offensively. Though the Irish baseball team would probably love to have him on the mound, the sophomore is looking to play hoops deep into March. After scoring 21 points and making six threes on Wednesday, Connaughton tallied 18 on 6-for-10 shooting beyond the arc against Marquette. He’s 12-for-18 from three-point range in the tournament so far.
It was the second tournament meeting between the two Catholic schools, but unlike 2008, when #6 seed Marquette defeated #3 seed Notre Dame, this year, it was the Irish that pulled the #6-over-#3 upset. On a day after a Jesuit was selected to be the new pope, you might say this was a little victory for the Congregation of Holy Cross.
With the win, the Fighting Irish advance to their fourth straight BIG EAST semifinal, where for the third consecutive year, they will meet – who else? The Louisville Cardinals.
If you’re a BIG EAST junkie, it doesn’t get any better than Friday’s semifinal pairings. Conference heavyweights and founding members Syracuse and Georgetown battle at 7 pm, before recent rivals and future ACC foes Notre Dame and Louisville meet at 9:30ish. Both the Orange and Irish will be looking to avenge losses in last week’s regular season finales.
Notre Dame now finds itself one win away from earning its first (and last) coveted spot in Saturday’s BIG EAST championship game at The Garden. It only seems right that the Irish will have to go through Louisville to get there.
Rest up. Friday is going to be fun night to be a college hoops fan.
Side note: For a little added entertainment, check out Coach Brey encouraging Eric Atkins to bank in his free throw after air-balling his first attempt.
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