- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Don’t change the channel. Ever.
In this sport, one last-minute switch could cost you. You might miss something epic, monumental. A classic.
I nearly did. Notre Dame had lost after all. Or so I thought. We all thought.
Right as I grabbed the remote, though, Fighting Irish wing Jerian Grant grabbed his cape.
After going 0-for-6 from the field up to that point, he scored 12 points in the final 47 seconds of regulation. Beast mode.
So a first overtime. And then another. And another. And another. And another.
The first five-overtime game in college basketball in four years. Notre Dame was down by eight points with 50 seconds to play and yet the Irish won 104-101 in five overtimes.
My observation? Wow. That’s my observation. Should be yours, too.
Reserves who hadn’t played had to play. Grab the media guide. “Who’s that guy?” Garrick Sherman isn't a complete unknown, but he had scored just six combined points in ND's last five games. He didn't play a second in regulation tonight, but still finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds. That's about all you need to know about this one.
But just in case you want some more fun facts:
Louisville and Notre Dame combined to shoot 97 free throws (48 for UL and 49 for ND).
The teams had the same amount of 3-point attempts (25) and offensive boards (19).
The two teams took a total of 158 shots and 10 players scored in double figures.
It was the longest game in Big East regular-season history.
Eight players fouled out, but six players played 50-plus minutes.
I’m excited, thrilled and exhausted. I can’t imagine how the combatants in both locker rooms feel right now.
Both groups deserve kudos because we all won.
Some other observations from Saturday night’s games:
Bruce Weber deserves more buzz as a national coach of the year candidate. I remember Weber’s final news conference at Illinois. His former team had just lost in the Big Ten tournament. Weber stood among a fleet of reporters and tried to hold back tears. He was unsuccessful. It was certainly one of the most emotional postgame press events I’ve ever attended. He was terminated a few days later. But how do you like Bruce Weber now? In a matter of months, he’s gone from the guy who couldn’t elevate the Fighting Illini to a level that appeased administrators and supporters to a man who’s guided Kansas State to first place (8-2) in the Big 12. The No. 13 Wildcats’ 79-70 victory was a gritty win -- their fourth in a row -- against an Iowa State squad that’s played its way into the at-large conversation. The Cyclones looked like a tourney team (49 percent from the field, 44 percent from behind the 3-point line). But the Wildcats played like champs, hours after Kansas suffered its third consecutive loss. They forced 18 turnovers and went 9-for-18 from beyond the arc. Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez combined to score 42 points in the perfect setup for Monday’s rivalry game at Kansas.
Steven Adams’ development is the most important development in the Big East race. I’m not sure we solved anything within the Big East on Saturday. We know that the conference has a bunch of good teams. Notre Dame and Louisville settled things in five overtimes. Marquette beat DePaul. Georgetown defeated Rutgers. But there’s not much separation at the top. With weeks remaining in the regular season, I wouldn’t be surprised if three or four squads finished with the title. That’s why I think Adams’ offensive development could be a major factor in the title hunt. On Saturday, Pittsburgh's freshman 7-footer finished with 13 points and four blocks. He was an offensive and defensive presence for the No. 23 Panthers, who held No. 17 Cincy to a 30.8 percent clip in a 62-52 win. In a league with a group of teams that are so close to one another, Adams' offensive growth is a factor. Pitt is good enough to win the rest of its games, especially with its final three matchups against squads (Villanova, South Florida and DePaul) that have combined to win eight conference games.
I don’t trust New Mexico. The Lobos are ranked 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. They’re second in the Mountain West in scoring defense (59.2 points per game). They have wins over Cincy, UNLV and Connecticut. But they’re also very unpredictable. They scored just 23 points in the first half of a 64-55 road loss to UNLV. The loss wasn’t that surprising given the Runnin’ Rebels’ diminished hopes of a MWC title. They were hungry. But every time I watch the Lobos, I see a different team. One night, I watch a program that justifies its first-place standing in the league. The next night, they seem disinterested. With seven or eight games left for the teams in the conference, I still don’t have a favorite. But I think the Lobos have the most complete squad, the team that should win it. But their inconsistent effort and execution makes it hard to latch onto that notion.
Michigan State finally looks like a Tom Izzo team. Road wins are scarce, even among the top 25. So the Spartans’ 78-65 victory at Purdue wasn’t insignificant. But Michigan State was tough in a hostile venue. And it held on. When I saw MSU in Minneapolis on Dec. 31, the Spartans just didn’t display the toughness that I’d witnessed with past Izzo teams. They just weren’t feisty enough. I had my doubts. But they’ve matured. The veterans have stepped up. And they’re playing the physical style that’s fueled past success within the program. With that attitude, these Spartans can win the Big Ten championship.
What’s happening in the Missouri Valley? Good question. Remember when No. 16 Creighton looked like the favorite for the conference title? Well on Saturday, the Bluejays lost 75-72 at home to Illinois State. The same Illinois State team that lost its first six MVC games. Indiana State beat Southern Illinois by one. Wichita State snapped a three-game losing streak with a 29-point win over Missouri State. Wichita State, Indiana State and Creighton are locked in a three-way tie for first place (each have 9-4 MVC records). Another wacky weekend for this league. Wow.