“If there’s a better game in the NCAA Tournament, I gotta see it,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
By Jenny Masters
Paul Atkinson Jr. rebounded and put back a layup with 1.4 seconds left to give the Notre Dame an 89-87 win over Rurgers in a wild First Four game and put them into a first-round West Region contest on Friday in San Diego.
“Well, let me start by saying Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone here,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “And you notice that Paul’s shot went in at 12:02 (EST) on St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe there was a little bit of karma there.”
Atkinson, a graduate transfer from Yale and former Ivy League Player of the Year, capped his finest game of the season, leading the Irish with 26 points and six rebounds.
Ron Harper Jr. had tied it with a long 3-pointer for Rutgers with 22 seconds left in the second OT before Atkinson won the scrum under the basket and put up the winner.
“They were one possession better,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
Nate Laszewski had 18 and Cormac Ryan 16 for the Irish (23-10).
Rutgers went up by eight to open the second half on Harper’s 3-pointer, but Notre Dame chipped away. The Irish got up by as many as five late before the game got tight again.
Geo Baker’s 3-pointer tied it at 69 for Rutgers with 1:24 left. Rutgers got the ball back, but Harper and Baker both missed shots that would have given the Scarlet Knights the win in regulation.
“We have an unbelievably gritty group,” Ryan said. “We don’t quit. I mean, so proud of how we played and battled. And our fight, man, you really can’t teach that.”
“If there’s a better game in the NCAA Tournament, I gotta see it,” Brey said. “That was an unbelievable college basketball game. And they’re really good. And tough. And fearless. And I’m really proud of our group because we just kept hanging in. We’ve grown a lot in the mental toughness area.”