Feb. 19, 2012
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - No. 23/25 Notre Dame outlasted Villanova 74-70 in overtime here on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Fighting Irish (19-8 overall, 11-3 BIG EAST) trailed by as many as 20 points before chipping away over the course of the second half as the Wildcats played without starters Maalik Wayns (sprained MCL in his left knee) and James Bell (sprained left ankle). Villanova bounced back from a 60-56 to force extra time when Maurice Sutton scored on a put-back with 0.9 seconds left in regulation.
"This is a tough loss," stated VU head coach Jay Wright, whose Wildcats dropped to 11-15 overall, 4-10 in the BIG EAST. "We're paying our dues and Notre Dame made every big shot down the stretch. They deserve a lot of credit for keeping their composure when they got behind. That's what experienced teams do and they're obviously playing with a lot of confidence.
"We struggled in the second half offensively. We had the shots - we just couldn't make them."
The Fighting Irish scored 10 of the game's first 15 points after Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton drained a triple with 16:15 to play in the first half. But then Villanova used its defense to ignite its offense over the next 12 minutes to take the lead and extend it.
During a 28-5 stretch the Wildcats controlled the backboards and got some long distance baskets from freshman JayVaughn Pinkston and junior Dominic Cheek. Maurice Sutton came up with a pair of blocks and Mouphtaou Yarou helped control the interior.
At one point VU held a 39-19 lead before the Fighting Irish scored the last four points of the period to cut the margin to 16 at intermission. The Wildcats held a 24-10 advantage in rebounding and connected on .484 of their attempts from the floor while limiting Notre Dame to .357 shooting from the field.
Pinkston led the Wildcats with 14 points at the break while Jack Cooley paced Notre Dame with 10.
"We went to the zone in the second half," stated Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, "and that helped us do a better job of rebounding. It allowed our big guys to be closer to the basket."
Notre Dame slowly fought their way back. An Eric Atkins triple with 10:47 to play narrowed the deficit to nine. The Wildcats were still holding a 56-47 edge with 4:26 to play after Pinkston sank a pair of free throws. But then Notre Dame reeled off an 11-0 run, capped by a Jerian Grant triple with 59.9 seconds left in regulation.
Villanova regrouped and got a pair of free throws from Cheek to shave the deficit to two. Following a stop, Ty Johnson drove into the lane and put up a 10-footer that came off the rim to Sutton, who calmly put it back into the basket to force an extra session.
The `Cats, though, whose starters logged 202 of a possible 225 minutes, weren't able to match the Irish over the final two minutes of overtime after a Pinkston three knotted the game at 65 with 1:51 to play in the extra session. Grant sank a 23 foot triple with 1:28 left that was quickly followed by a Connaughton 3-pointer that put Notre Dame up 71-65 with 45.9 seconds left.
Johnson and Pinkston, who both notched career highs in minutes played, were bothered by cramping in the final minutes.
Pinkston led VU in scoring with 24 points while Cheek added 19 points to go with six rebounds. Sutton contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds. Connaughton paced Notre Dame with 21 points on seven 3-pointers.
"I am optimistic about this team and the future of our program," said Wright. "But this is a tough one. There are little things holding us back and we have to keep grinding, getting better."