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February 12, 2013

One for the ages

Two days removed from one of the most memorable games in Purcell Pavilion history. DePaul -- a team that took the Irish to overtime -- just two days away.

Smiles and heads shaking in disbelief still were the common reactions as the Irish convened for practice in The Pit.

Feb. 9-10, 2013: Notre Dame 104, Louisville 101. Five overtimes. One for the ages. Instant classic.

“It was a little longer of a memory than I would have liked given the drama and how much media has been around it,” smiled Irish head coach Mike Brey Monday afternoon from the bowels of the Joyce Center. “It’s like the third straight February where you kind of become the talk of college basketball.

“I guess we were on the (ABC) World News (Sunday) night…The memory is going on longer than I would like. But I’m going to handle that in about 10 minutes.”

The players had their own stories to tell in the aftermath of the three-and-a-half hour marathon Saturday night/Sunday morning.

“It was incredible,” said Jack Cooley, who fouled out with a little less than seven minutes remaining in regulation. “I had like a hundred texts after the game. My phone froze. I’d slide the bar across and nothing happened. Everyone was calling me and talking to me.

“I was exhausted. The fans were exhausted, and I became a fan after I fouled out. Everyone was tired and it felt good to wake up. You’re sore, but it felt good.”

No one needed rest more than Irish point guard Eric Atkins, who played the most minutes - 60 out of 65 - of any player in uniform.

“I know Sunday, I didn’t wake up until like two o’clock,” Atkins said. “(Monday), I had to get up for class. But I know I’m going to get to bed early tonight. Still a little tired, but I have to bounce back and be ready by Wednesday.

“A whole bunch of people texted me and asked me how in the world I could play 60 minutes. A lot of people were blown away by how I could do it.”

Of course, Atkins would be much better rested had it not been for his running mate’s heroics at the end of regulation. Trailing by eight after Chane Behanan’s free throw with 51 seconds remaining, Jerian Grant hit a three-pointer with 45 seconds left, another with 36 seconds remaining, and yet another with 28 seconds on the clock to pull the Irish to within three.

Then, with about 20 seconds left, Grant made a move to the basket, scored and was fouled by Wayne Blackshear with 16 seconds left. Grant converted the free throw to complete a 12-point scoring binge that would lead to another 25 minutes of action.

“Everybody keeps telling me that it’s something they’ve never seen before, something that they’d never forget,” Grant said. “I remember just how loud the crowd got. Being down, it was dead. You see a couple people walking out. You start hitting a couple shots and the louder the crowd gets. You suddenly realize the game is still (winnable).

“I was frustrated throughout the whole game. I didn’t get a shot to fall at all. So at the end of the game, I wanted to see what I could do for my team.”

Grant said he learned a valuable lesson against Louisville.

“Just demanding the ball, demanding a stop, just being more demanding,” Grant said. “When our team needs a basket or our team needs somebody to make a play, just do it. Anything to get your imagination going that you need to be the guy to step up.”

The game attracted attention from coast to coast, including former Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcote - Tom Izzo’s predecessor. The 85-year-old Heathcote called the Notre Dame office Monday.

“He called from Spokane and (left a message), ‘Tell Mike he kept me up even way past my bed time Pacific time,’” Brey said. “A lot of guys said, ‘I stayed up for you…’ I heard from a lot of coaches, which is always great to hear from guys in the profession.”

But the time to put it all behind them had arrived Monday afternoon.

“Today, I’m feeling pretty good,” Brey said. “My juice is back. Something like that kind of gets you motivated to want to get back in the gym.

“(Sunday) was tough for all of us, but we’re not going to go real hard today. Today’s the day we talk about it mentally a little bit and how we approach Wednesday and the rest of the season. By Tuesday’s practice, we’ll have great energy.”

And a memory for the ages.

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