SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame watched a video of great boxing knockouts knowing their game against Louisville would probably be bruising.
It turned out to be the longest game in Big East regular-season history.
“I talked about it being a 15-rounder and taking punches and being put on the mat,” coach Mike Brey said. “At the fourth or fifth timeout I said, ‘Has there ever been a 20-rounder?’ ”
If so, it couldn’t have been any more thrilling than the No. 25 Irish’s five-overtime victory over the 11th-ranked Cardinals in a game that ended early Sunday morning, a 104-101 win in which the two teams traded great plays and missed shots.
Afterward, even Louisville coach Rick Pitino forgot how long the game was, referring to it as a four-overtime game.
The previous record for the conference in the regular season was a four-overtime game that happened 11 years ago and also involved Notre Dame. The Irish beat Georgetown 116-111 in 4 OTs on Feb. 9, 2002.
Jack Cooley, who fouled out in regulation, said the Irish players scoffed at Brey when he talked about a 15-round boxing match.
“We’re like, 15-round matches, that doesn’t happen. And then we played five overtimes. So that’s how it went,” he said.
There was no knockout punch in the game – just body blows.
Cameron Biedscheid scored on a layup with 1:19 left in the fifth overtime, and Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton added free throws in the final 19 seconds as the Irish overcame an eight-point deficit in regulation to win.
Russ Smith had a chance to tie it at the end of the fifth overtime, but his three-point attempt missed before Notre Dame students flooded the court to celebrate. It marked the sixth time in the last eight meetings that a game between the Irish (19-5, 7-4 Big East) and the Cardinals (19-5, 7-4) went into overtime.
“It’s always overtime,” said Chane Behanan, who led the Cardinals with a career-high 30 points and 15 rebounds. “The strongest will survive. They were a great team tonight, and made a lot of big shots.”
Pitino, who didn’t take questions after the game, credited the Irish.
“They made some just incredible shots,” he said. “I can’t fault our defense. We were on them.”
Both teams missed crucial free throws in the final minute. Atkins missed two with 37 seconds left and Montrezi Harrell did the same for Louisville with 24 seconds left. The lead changed hands 26 times and there were 16 ties.
“We missed some big free throws and we missed some shots and we never really hung our head,” Brey said
Pitino said the Cardinals made a few mental mistakes down the stretch when they had the lead by trying to force the issue.
“But sometimes when you’re a bad foul shooting team at times it’s not the worst thing in the world to get two points,” he said.
Jerian Grant, who fouled out with 1:57 left in the first overtime, led the Irish with 19 points. Garrick Sherman, playing because Cooley and Tom Knight fouled out, added 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in overtime as the Notre Dame bench outscored Louisville’s 39-31. Connaughton added 16 points and 14 rebounds, Atkins added 14 points, and Cooley, who fouled out 6:54 left in regulation, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Luke Hancock added 22 points for Louisville, Smith had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Gorgui Dieng had 17 points and 13 rebounds.
It didn’t look as if the Cardinals were going to need overtime when Behanan made a free throw with 51 seconds left in regulation to make it 56-48. But Grant led the Irish on a 12-4 comeback, hitting three straight three-pointers and then tying it on a three-point play with 16 seconds left.
“I’ve never seen anything like that because I was about to strangle him for his play up until that point,” Brey said. “What he did there was amazing. Because people were going up the aisles. People were beginning to leave.”
The Cardinals had a chance to win, but they never got a shot off as Siva lost control of the ball under the basket in the closing seconds.
“I’m not surprised we won,” Atkins said. “I’m surprised it took that long.”
Brey said it was one of the most exciting games he’s ever been a part of. “Unbelievable. I’m really proud of my team because many times we were down in the overtimes and kept fighting back,” he said. “Everybody was part of it tonight. It’s one of those magical nights.”