And that's why they play the game.
50 minutes. 54 fouls – 20 by a quartet of Notre Dame big men. 22 lead changes and 17 ties; three chances to win in three separate final possessions…
The Irish played their best game of the season and then some Wednesday night, but the outcome was similar to that of the majority of conference road games over the last two seasons in Notre Dame's 91-89 double overtime loss to Louisville at Freedom Hall.
The Cardinals were led by the post power of sophomore big man Samardo Samuels, who scored six of his game-high 36 points in the second overtime – all at the free throw line. The Louisville big man knocked down 16 of 19 freebies while causing four Irish big men: Jack Cooley, Tyrone Nash, Mike Broghammer, and Carleton Scott to foul out over the course of the contest.
The Irish, 12-point underdogs playing without All American forward Luke Harangody for the second straight game due to a bone bruise on his right knee, enlisted the services of little used big men Cooley and Broghammer to combat Samuels inside.
Though Cooley offered early success defensively on the low-block, the freshman proved too inexperience for Samuels who parked in or near the lane for the bulk of the contest.
Notre Dame was led by forward Tim Abromaitis’ 29 points but the junior was unable to pull the trigger on a potential game-tying three-point shot in the final moments of the second overtime, instead dribbling into traffic and failing to launch a desperation shot from the short corner as time expired.
Ben Hansbrough scored 21 points including a 10-12 effort from the charity stripe. Hansbrough, who did not score in the second half, hit 10-10 foul shots over the course of two overtime periods. The senior missed a crucial pair at the 1:14 mark of regulation with the Irish clinging to a three-point lead.
Senior point guard Tory Jackson played the full 50 minutes, scoring 19 points and dishing out seven assists while committing five turnovers vs. the relentless Louisville pressure.
Overtime #2…and Avoiding a 3rd
The Cardinals, after trailing for the majority of the first overtime, took a three-point lead on their first possession of the second extra session. Six Samardo Samuels free throws sandwiched another three-point bucket to give the home team a two-point edge with one defensive stand between them and their eighth conference victory of the season.
With the Irish down to five players (one of which had four fouls) it was obvious the visitors would opt for a last possession three-point attempt for the win, rather than a bucket inside the arc and a potential third overtime.
Jackson and Abromaitis ran a pick and roll with Abromaitis flashing to the top of the key, but the Cardinals closed out defensively before the junior could get a clean look, and his ensuing, dead-legged penetration proved fruitless as the sharpshooter could never again square toward the rim.
Irish freshman forward Joey Brooks stood free under the hoop for nearly four seconds to no avail as Abromaitis offered a frustrated, over-the-shoulder fling after the horn had sounded (the play was clearly designed to be a three-point bucket or bust, as Abromaitis drove sideways, rather than toward the hoop).
The First Overtime – Giving Back
The Irish took control immediately in the extra session, racing to a 74-67 lead following an Abromaitis dunk and foul shot at the 3:25 mark. But the otherwise solid forward committed a cardinal sin, fouling Louisville swingman Reginald Delk on a successful three-point bucket on the next possession.
Delk’s free throw conversion trimmed a seven point edge to three in a mere 14 seconds and the Irish relinquished their first bit of breathing room of the contest.
The four-point play spurred a 10-2 run by Cardinals, who took a one-point lead, 77-76 with just over a minute remaining.
Abromaitis drained a set-play three-pointer off a pick-and-roll to give the Irish a two-point advantage with 55 seconds left before Cardinals big man Samardo Samuels, unstoppable inside all evening, hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 79.
Notre Dame had a chance to win in the overtime’s final possession but Hansbrough’s spinning layup attempt was unsuccessful and the teams headed to a second extra session.
That Empty Feeling – Two Bounces from Unlikely Hero
Trailing 21-18 at the 9:10 mark of the first half, Louisville junior guard Preston Knowles buried consecutive three-point buckets in a 26-second span. The jumpers spurred a 10-0 and 15-3 run from the Cardinals, but the Irish answered, finishing the half on a 12-4 sprint over the final 3:40 to draw within one, 37-36 at the break.
Senior guard Ben Hansbrough kept the Irish close early, netting 11 first half points including six on consecutive three-point buckets to quell the Cardinals spurt.
The lead exchanged hands on 18 occasions in the second half with neither team earning more than a three-point advantage at any point during the second stanza.
A Mike Broghammer offensive rebound and bucket gave the Irish a 67-64 lead at the 1:32 mark of regulation, but head coach Mike Brey’s group failed to score again as Louisville tied the contest on a pair of Samuels free throws and a split at the charity stripe by 90 percent shooter, Preston Knowles.
Notre Dame milked the clock’s final 28 seconds but Broghammer’s semi-contested eight-footer on the baseline tapped the unforgiving iron twice before bouncing out and sending the teams to overtime at Freedom Hall for the second time in 13 months (both won by the Cardinals).
The teams matched each other on the boards (both with 32 including 9 offensive boards apiece), and nearly did the same in the turnover department though the Irish (14) committed one fewer than did the pressure-intensive Cardinals (15 including 10 steals by Notre Dame defenders).
Notre Dame was whistled for 28 fouls compared to Louisville’s 26 though the Cardinals attempted 40 free throws (hitting an impressive 35) compared to the visitors' 23 made freebies in 29 attempts. Both teams blocked seven shots while the Irish held a slight edge with 14 assists to the Cardinals 12 over the 50-minute marathon.
Jackson, Hansbrough, and Abromaitis played an aggregate 143 of the 150 possible minutes while Samuels logged 45 for the victors.
Notre Dame is 4-7 during Mike Brey's tenure in overtime games and has dropped seven of its last eight contests determined by extra sessions dating back to January 2006. Three of those defeats occurred at the hands of the Cardinals.
Note: IrishEyes will have more on Wednesday’s thriller in our regular player-by-player review column to be published Thursday morning.