PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Maybe Notre Dame should be called the Fight-Lin Irish.
No one predicted this run off success over the last month from Notre Dame — or this stunning comeback. Down 20 on the road at Villanova, the Irish buried 3 after 3 to pull off perhaps their most astounding victory yet.
“Jeremy Lin and the Irish,” coach Mike Brey said. “Believe it.”
Pat Connaughton scored 21 points, Jack Cooley had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 23 Notre Dame erased a 20-point deficit in a 74-70 overtime victory over Villanova on Saturday night.
Eric Atkins scored 17 points to help the Irish (19-8, 11-3 Big East) win their eighth straight game. They made nine of their 12 3-pointers after halftime to send Villanova to its fifth loss in six games.
“It’s a great win for a group that really believes in itself,” Brey said.
Notre Dame caught fire even after losing star Tim Abromaitis for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Irish suffered a 20-point loss to Gonzaga in November as part of a stretch of four losses in five games.
Brey joked after that rough patch that he thought Notre Dame would be “having a parade” if they pulled of a NIT bid.
Look at the Irish now.
Of course, the rally was aided by a collapse from one of the worst teams in the Big East.
The Wildcats (11-15, 4-10) got a second chance after squandering the massive lead on Maurice Sutton’s tying bucket late in regulation. They didn’t have enough in OT.
Jerian Grant put the Irish ahead 68-65 on a 3-pointer with 1:28 left and Connaughton hit his seventh 3 with 45.9 seconds to go for a six-point lead.
The Irish survived 38-percent shooting from the floor.
“It’s a confidence thing now,” Connaughton said.
JayVaughn Pinkston scored 24 points, Dom Cheek had 19, and Sutton had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. Leading scorer Maalik Wayns sat out with a sprained MCL in his left knee and guard James Bell was out with a sprained left ankle.
“I’m proud of the effort,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “I think we’re getting better defensively. I don’t want to be negative. I’m optimistic about this team, about the future of our program.”
Down two starters, the Wildcats were at their best in the first half and led 39-19.
Not for long.
The Irish stormed back against a Villanova team that made only five baskets in the second half. The fifth one was a big one. Sutton put back Ty Johnson’s miss with 0.9 seconds to tie the game at 60 and send it to overtime.
The Wildcats never should have let it come to the last shot of regulation. They committed turnovers on three straight possessions in the final minutes and Notre Dame pounced.
Villanova’s ninth turnover led to an Irish bucket for a 56-51 lead. Wright called a timeout on the next possession but the Wildcats had a shot-clock violation.
Connaughton buried a 3 to make it 56-54. Again the Wildcats turned the ball over, this time on a travel.
Atkins gave them a 57-56 lead on a three-point play before Grant hit a 3 for a sudden four-point lead, and the Notre Dame faithful, silenced all night, burst into a “Let’s go Irish!” chant.
The Wildcats went more than 7 minutes without a basket until Sutton tied it.
“It happened so fast, I couldn’t even tell you what happened,” Sutton said.
Connaughton and Pinkston exchanged 3s in OT to make it 65-65, and the Irish still had big buckets left in them.
The Wildcats could have used this kind of first-half play starting two months ago. They scored the first 13 points of a 28-5 run that put them up 20.
Pinkston and Cheek hit consecutive 3s during that run and the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the floor for most of the half. Led by Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova punished them on the boards, too, outrebounding the Irish 22-8. Yarou finished with 11 rebounds.
Villanova led 39-23 at halftime before the Irish pulled off their own version of Lin-sanity.
“I think they’re special. I really do,” Brey said.
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