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Expect surprise: Notre Dame beats Louisville in a 5-OT classic

Mike Brey (center) got plenty of help and magic from his bench in beating Louisville in an instant classic. (US Presswire)

It wasn’t the best game of the college basketball season, only the most improbable.

What initially looked to be a slow, nonchalant, boilerplate league road victory for Louisville turned into one of the most bizarre games of basketball we’ve seen in years. Start to finish, it took:

— 65 minutes of play that lasted 3 hours and 36 minutes
— Five overtimes
— 158 field goal attempts
— 101 rebounds
— 66 fouls
— Eight foul-outs
— 205 points, which isn’t even the most scored by two teams in a game this week, let alone this season. (Marist beat Iona 105-104 Thursday night; that game had a mere two overtimes.)

No. 25 Notre Dame 104, No. 11 Louisville 101. It was the fifth time in the past six games between these teams that they needed overtime to find a verdict.

Yes, say it with me: College basketball is having a terrific season, its best in years and years.

This South Bend barn-burner became the second-longest game in Big East history, only coming short of the classic six-OT game between Syracuse and Connecticut at the 2009 Big East tournament. It was the first time since 2008 that college basketball’s regular season has had a game play out through five OTs (when Baylor beat Texas AM 116-110.)

And yet it shouldn’t have even gotten to this point. But then again, don’t we wind up saying that with most classics?

Here, Louisville had an eight-point lead with under a minute remaining in regulation. In that span, Irish’s Jerian Grant exploded for 12 points, staging a one-man comeback that was deserving of its own novella before things got especially epic. At the end of regulation, thanks to Grant, the score was tied at 60. Innocent minds reveled at what Notre Dame had just done, naive to what was on its way over the course of the next hour-plus.

What came were odd-numbered leads and patterns of point totals that seemed to point toward an ending at any overtime. But a missed free throw here or a made 3-pointer there, and these two clubs just kept circling back to each other at even ledgers.

Louisville had its chances, and its (former) Player of the Year candidate, Russ Smith, I regret to say, blew it for the Cards in this one. He took a bad 3, unguarded from 25 feet, and missed it at the end of the first overtime. The second OT saw Cameron Biedscheid bury a 3 from Eric Atkins — the only man who went Mike Wallace and played 60 minutes Saturday night — and that was followed up by a bad drive/failed layup by Smith.

The third overtime: Smith didn’t get a runner off in time (and it didn’t fall through anyway).

Fourth OT: Smith attacks the rim again, but the contested layup isn’t even close.

And on the final possession of the game, Smith had the ball in his hands (Peyton Siva fouled out in the second OT) and missed the universe-bender that would’ve been his game-tying 3.

Louisville goes home and expires all its chances at getting a No. 1 seed. The Cardinals are 19-5 and 7-4 in the Big East. The Cardinals had a great performance out of Chane Behanan, who went for 30 points and 15 rebounds. But big performances often get overshadowed in these kind of basketball baroque opuses. For example, a dude you’ve never heard of named Garrick Sherman came off the bench and scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds — after not playing a second in regulation. That has to be a record.

Atkins — who, again, played more minutes than anybody — had three turnovers as a point guard. Astonishing.

“What a fun night it was,” Brey said on TV afterward. “We got to 100 because we played an extra game.”

It was an extra game, practically. For Irish fans, the outcome will call to mind the Notre Dame-Georgetown four-overtime classic that ended Irish 116, Hoyas 111 on — well look at that — Feb. 9, 2002. Exactly 11 years ago to the DAY.

Of course, because that’s what this campaign of college hoops has become all about: one game after another, reliable as if delivered on a conveyer belt. Enjoyable hoop action shows up on our TVs and makes us put off doing other things in order to watch and see what happens next. It’s turning into the best season of college basketball I can remember. As I wrote earlier on Saturday: Expect surprise.


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