The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. As a No. 11 seed in the West Region, they defeated fellow No. 11 seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Wednesday night’s First Four round matchup.
The Irish fended away every Rutgers Scarlet Knights attack with some clutch three-pointers from Ron Harper Jr. and won the game 89-87 in double overtime. They are now set to play Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday. The game was an instant classic that has set up the entire 63 games of the tournament beautifully.
The Rutgers was leading the Fighting Irish by eight points in the early moments of the second half. Notre Dame was unstoppable in the paint as they scored over 50 points. But despite not being great from the deep, they were able to hit clutch outside shots when required. Dane Goodwin towards the end looked great but it was Paul Atkinson Jr. who emerged as the tipping point of the game and made the difference.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was elated with this victory and also called this game one of the best games in the tournament. He said, “Well, let me start by saying Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone here. And you notice that Paul’s shot went in at 12:02 (EST) on St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe there was a little bit of karma there.”
“If there’s a better game in the NCAA Tournament, I gotta see it,” he continued. “That was an unbelievable college basketball game. And they’re really good. And tough. And fearless. And I’m really proud of our group because we just kept hanging in. We’ve grown a lot in the mental toughness area.”
Paul Atkinson Jr, a graduate transfer from Yale and former Ivy League Player of the Year, had probably his best game of the season, as he led the Irish with 26 points and six rebounds. In his post match interview, he said, “I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s amazing. Bunch of cameras on you. Big spotlight, last game of the night. Definitely got my teammates to cheer with. It’s just awesome. Got family up in the stands. Couldn’t ask for anything better.”