(MCT) — On Sunday, they rested. Well, later on Sunday, anyway.
It was well beyond midnight when Notre Dame players shuffled across the Purcell Pavilion floor to head up a ramp and out to the parking lots, the same floor that a short while earlier flooded with frenzied bodies too delirious to process what they just saw.
In the calm after the court storm, after playing 56 minutes of basketball, Pat Connaughton hugged his mother, who then told the sophomore he’d catch a cold if he didn’t layer up. Eric Atkins left quietly with women’s hoopster Natalie Achonwa, who played 28 minutes in her game that afternoon. Atkins saw that and then was nearly all-in, logging 60.
And Garrick Sherman checked his phone, no doubt scrolling through messages wondering where he’d been, what had gotten into him, and what in the world just happened. The longest game in the history of the Big East regular season started Saturday night and ended the next day after five overtimes and a rapturous 104-101 Irish win over No. 11 Louisville.
“I really can’t even describe it,” Sherman said. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
A resolute, validating effort was desperately needed by No. 25 Notre Dame, even if it involved borderline inhumane work conditions. But the business of calculating the impact would wait. Mike Brey watched the volleyball team his daughter coaches Sunday, and then the Irish coach returned home to take in other college basketball action.
He would hold off on prepping for the next game, reveling in the madness and in text messages like the one Tulane coach Ed Conroy sent along, informing Brey that Notre Dame and Louisville were great for bar business across the country.
“It would have been disappointing, but something to build on, if you lost that thing,” Brey said. “There were a lot of good things that came out of it with different guys contributing. We would have used that to build on. Certainly getting it really helps. You go that long, eventually you say, God, you want to get it now, we’ve invested so much.”
The payout still depends on the Irish, and whether they capitalize on what they discovered or rediscovered against Louisville.
Jerian Grant overcame a horrible night to score 12 points in 45 seconds and force overtime. Connaughton was challenged by coaches to produce and battled through an ankle sprain for 16 points and 14 rebounds. Sherman scored 17 points after sitting two straight games and the first 43 minutes versus Louisville. The team overcame four players, including three starters, fouling out.
After failing late in games at home, after getting manhandled at Syracuse, Notre Dame had little evidence of resolve. The Irish had been adrift a bit, startlingly out-toughed at times, adding up to less than the sum of the parts. After five overtimes, there may not be much left of them, but what’s left is something worthwhile.
“Everyone says we’re already in (the NCAA tournament), and we don’t want to think like that,” center Jack Cooley said. “To have a game like this where you earn it — we want to personify what it takes to get to the tournament, and you have to win games like this. To see it come true is really good to see.”
Lose to DePaul on Wednesday, and this foundation crumbles. That’s the temperament of a claustrophobic Big East. The Irish have seven of nine total conference victories that safely would place them in the NCAA brackets ... but they only have seven of nine.
“Seven league wins is very powerful,” Brey said. “As I told our team, through all that and everything, that still only counts as one.”
It felt like more, but Notre Dame must turn that feeling into something tangible. The likely plan for Monday involved stretching, maybe some five-on-none work, shooting and weightlifting. Recovery from the insanity against Louisville, what Brey called a “special night,” required more time. Then the Irish would try to finish what they started.