Mike Brey's suddenly unbeatable Irish played just 20 minutes of quality basketball vs. Villanova, but it was enough to fight off the home underdog and initially blazing-hot Wildcats.
The hosts turned an early 10-5 deficit into a 33-15 lead and eventually a 39-19 advantage with 1:33 remaining in the first half. From there the Irish trimmed the lead to 39-23 at the break; 40-29 with just under 16 minutes remaining; and 51-44 10 minutes later.
Notre Dame then scored 16 of the game's next 21 points to take a 60-56 lead with 1:01 remaining, but the Wildcats scored four straight on a pair of free throws and later a tip-in bucket with less than a second remaining by emergent game hero Maurice Sutton to send the game at overtime.
Sutton entered the contest averaging 2.3 points in just over seven minutes per game. He scored 10 points with 11 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in the ‘Cats upset bid. (Sutton had 10 in 17 minutes Wednesday in a loss at South Florida.)
Irish freshman swingman Pat Connaughton was the difference-maker down the stretch, drilling two of his career-best seven three-point field goals in overtime and another at the 2:26 mark of regulation that cut Villanova's lead from five to two, 56-54, its slimmest margin since early in the opening half.
Redshirt-freshman guard Jerian Grant continued to show poise in late-game situations regardless of prior struggles. Grant nailed a step-back three-pointer in regulation to provide the Irish the aforementioned late 60-56 edge, then answered a Villanova three to break a 65-65 tie at the 1:37 mark. Connaughton hit his final trifecta a possession later and the Irish secured their fifth road win in seven league games, pulling even with Marquette for second place in the conference standings in the process.
Notre Dame beat Marquette 76-59 in early February and thus holds a tiebreaker between the teams.
Connaughton's 21 led the Irish but junior center Jack Cooley provided another standout supporting role, scoring 18 points with 13 rebounds, his fourth straight double-double and eighth in 14 league games. Grant scored 10 but missed 11 of 14 shots while his backcourt mate Eric Atkins scored 17 with six assists and just one turnover in 40 minutes.
Freshman forward Jayvaughn Pinkston led Villanova with 24 points while junior guard Dominic Cheek scored 17 with . The Wildcats played their second straight without leading scorer MaalikWayns, who injured his knee in a win over Providence in early February.
Notre Dame improved to 11-3 in league play, 18-8 overall. The Irish host West Virginia Wednesday in South Bend; a rematch of the teams' 55-51 nail-biter won by Notre Dame in Morgantown on February 8.
Villanova falls to 11-15 overall and 4-10 in league play. The Wildcats have lost five of their last seven, with five games in that stretch decided by four points or fewer.
Notre Dame's eighth straight win ties a program record in conference play. Mike Brey's first Irish team won eight consecutive games in his first season, 2000-01 en route to a West Division title. The victory also tied the 2001 team's mark for the best start through 14 games at 11-3.
Out-rebounded 45-38, the Irish hit 12 of 30 three-point shots and committed just six turnovers vs. 17 assists. Brey's Irish have won five of their last six overtime games dating back to the season-finale 2010.
Note: Irisheyes.com will have a follow-up commentary on tonight's contest Sunday morning.