On this night at Notre Dame, you can call him three-point Jesus.
Notre Dame was down eight with 50 seconds left and the University of Louisville looked to be headed out of South Bend with its first win there since 1994.
Then Jerian Grant started making some immaculate connections. He scored 12 points in the game's last 47 seconds, six on a pair of heavily contested three-pointers, three more on a shot from NBA depth, and the final three on a drive into the lane, followed by a foul and a free throw when Wayne Blackshear, despite having a three-point lead, tried to slide in front of him to draw the charge. From then, a miracle was only a matter of time. Well, a matter of time, and U of L mistakes.
You give a team enough chances, you're going to lose. And U of L did, 104-101, after 15 ties and 26 lead changes, after five overtimes, the longest regular-season game in school and Big East history.
"They made the most ridiculous threes I've ever seen," Pitino told U of L play-by-play man Paul Rogers after the game. "Let's just cut it at that."
Of course, nobody's going to cut it at that.
Four times U of L had the ball in overtime with the last shot and a chance to win, and four times it failed to create a quality look to escape.
And those weren't the only mistakes. Defensive lapses. Ill-advised fouls. There was Russ Smith at the end of the first overtime and the clocking running out, casually dribbling out the time before launching a near desperation-length shot. He was there again at the end of the fourth overtime, driving for a layup on the break with a two-point lead and 28 seconds left, ignoring two open teammates and neglecting to run clock, instead missing a contested layup and giving Notre Dame the ball back for, what else, a prayer of a tip-in to force another OT.
There were missed free throws -- 18 of them for U of L, which went 30 of 48. Notre Dame was 33 of 49.
"There were so many mental mistakes," U of L coach Rick Pitino said in a terse, brief radio interview on the Nelligan Sports U of L radio network after the game.
Pitino repeatedly refused to call timeout to set up offensive sets at the close of overtimes and regulation, trying to take advantage of Notre Dame not having timeouts to set defense. U of L got the ball back with 16 seconds left in regulation, but never got a shot off when Peyton Siva's bounce pass to Gorgui Dieng in the lane was deflected away.
U of L had Notre Dame on the ropes with a 6-point lead and seven minutes to play in regulation. But instead of extending its lead, it turned the ball over, or took less-than ideal shots, and with five minutes to play, its lead was still six points, and one or two Notre Dame plays gave the Irish enough momentum to finish.
But more than that, an eight-point lead with 50 seconds to play and a veteran team on the court ought to stand up -- even if the opponent makes some huge threes.
Up three with 25 seconds left, junior Gorgui Dieng missed a pair of free throws. Then Blackshear made a crucial defensive error to allow the game to be tied, and it went into overtime.
U of L got the ball back with the game tied and 11 seconds to play in the first overtime, but Smith walked the ball up the court as if he were strolling to Waffle House. Pitino let the action continue without calling a timeout to reset it, and Smith's prayer of a three had no chance.
He had another shot at the end of the second OT, but his floater missed, as did Chane Behanan's tip try.
The Cards forced a shot-clock violation at the end of the third overtime, but could not get a shot off in the 3.7 seconds it had to advance the ball the length of the court.
In the fourth overtime, U of L again built a four-point lead with 56 seconds left, but Garrick Sherman, a little-used reserve forward and transfer from Michigan State who didn't check in until the second overtime made back-to-back tip-ins to force the fifth and decisive extra period -- the last of which came after Smith's rushed layup try with 28 seconds left.
Even in the final OT, U of L had its chances. With Notre Dame up two, Eric Atkins missed two free throws with 37 seconds left, but U of L's Montrezl Harrell missed two of his own -- the second an airball, with 24 seconds left. Down 103-100, Smith made one of two for U of L, and after Pat Connaughton made one of two for Notre Dame with 12 seconds left Smith's last-gasp three clanged off with two seconds left, and U of L was beaten.
So what does this mean?
First, the usual disclaimers. It's only one loss. Losing at Notre Dame? Nothing new. U of L hasn't won there since joining the Big East. It hasn't won there since 1994. And overtime? Now six of the past eight between these two programs have been in overtime. None of that is worthy of a trip to the ledge.
But this also isn't your ordinary loss, and there is a larger issue.
Here's the worrisome part: It's the third time in three weeks that U of L has failed to put away a game, either on the last possession, or when the lead could have been extended. And they had so many chances.
It's the second of their four losses that can be fairly said were flat given away. And you could lump the Villanova loss in that class if you ascribe the loss primarily to free throws.
From that sense, U of L's problems are fixable.
But the team is going to have to show a level of basketball understanding it has not shown to this point in pressure situations.
A season ago, U of L had a number of these types of games go its way. This season, they're going the other direction.
U of L got strong play from Behanan, who finished with a career-high 30 points and 15 rebounds. Gorgui Dieng was good in many areas, with 17 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in 52 minutes played. But he couldn't stem the onslaught of Notre Dame points in the paint in overtime.
Peyton Siva played 41 minutes with two points and four assists.
Luke Hancock scored a career-high 20 points, and Smith finished with 21 points and, criticize his late-game decisions all you want, outside of his 13-for-16 free throw shooting, his teammates were barely better than 50 percent (17 of 32).
The overtimes will dramatize the problems of this basketball team, because it becomes a higher profile loss and one all the more painful because it should've been locked up.
But this team has developed a failure to finish, not just at the end of games but in the set-up period 6 to 8 minutes out from the finish. And from an offensive standpoint, the ball still isn't moving enough, is becoming bogged down at times in dribbling from the backcourt, and is in bad need of some new answers in late situations.
Pitino, according to reporters in the Joyce Center, did not take questions after the game, only making a statement before leaving. But he has bigger questions inside his locker room than outside of it at the moment. And if adversity seems to bring out the best in this particular collection of players, they ought to have an optimal situation now.
It's not the games the Cardinals have booted away that will cost them. It's the ones up ahead that will, unless they correct some of their late-game lapses -- even if it requires working overtime.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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