|Notre Dame's Jack Cooley (45) fights for control of the ball with South Florida's Augustus Gilchrist (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament in New York, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)|
South Florida loses to Notre Dame 57-53 in OT
NEW YORK—South Florida had a lot celebrate this season. Now the Bulls can only hope there is at least one more game to play.
They came to the Big East tournament with 12 conference wins, their most ever, and Stan Heath was selected Coach of the Year. There was the second-round win over Villanova that moved them into the quarterfinals for the first time.
Those all became points to argue for a postseason bid after sixth-seeded South Florida lost 57-53 in overtime to 23rd-ranked and third-seeded Notre Dame on Thursday night.
Now the Bulls will wait for Sunday to see if they will earn their third NCAA tournament appearance and first since 1992.
"I'll be honest; I won't sleep," Heath said. "You want to hear your name called on Sunday at 6 o'clock. I think we've done a great job by putting ourselves in a great position. I think our team is worthy. But there's some people that have a lot of information that make wise decisions, and we'll let our case rest with them."
Eric Atkins scored all six of his points in overtime to lead the third-seeded Fighting Irish (22-10), who will play seventh-seeded Louisville in the semifinals Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Cardinals (24-9) beat second-seeded and ninth-ranked Marquette 84-71.
It will be a rematch of last year's semifinal that saw Louisville advance to the championship game, where it lost to Connecticut.
South Florida played a tough defensive game against the Fighting Irish, just as it had in its last nine games when it held all the opponents to less than 60 points.
The teams combined for a total of seven points over the final 6 minutes of regulation. They picked up the pace in the 5-minute overtime with Notre Dame outscoring the Bulls 12-8.
Neither team broke 40 percent from the field for the game. In the second half, Notre Dame was 4 of 20 from the field and South Florida 8 of 26.
Victor Rudd Jr. had 16 points for the sixth-seeded Bulls (20-13), who advanced to the quarterfinals with a win over Villanova, the farthest they have ever gone in the conference tournament.
"I'm real proud of my guys. That was a heck of a game," said Heath, who took the Bulls from a 14th pick in the preseason poll to the 12-6 league record. "We had it. I thought we just let it slip away in regulation and made some mistakes and didn't finish some plays that we should have finished.
"But I thought we played hard. We were much better on the defensive end the second half. We did a good job sharing the ball and taking care of it and getting some quality shots and just came up a little bit short. That's a very good basketball team at Notre Dame. Hats off for the way they found a way to win. Hopefully, we erased any doubt in terms of what kind of basketball team we are and proved that we belong. We definitely belong."
Anthony Collins, who finished with 13 points and seven assists, gave South Florida a 45-42 lead with 2:44 left in regulation when he scored on a drive to the basket.
Grant made two free throws with 38 seconds left to bring the Fighting Irish within a point. It appeared South Florida would put the game away when Jawanza Poland took a long inbounds pass but he missed a layup. He was able to corral the loose ball and was fouled with 30 seconds left only to miss the front end of a 1-and-1.
"I guess you could say it slipped," Poland said. "I had a wide-open layup. I should have made it, but I didn't.
"I put it out (of my head), I just missed the free throw. It's hard. I could have put my team up with (30) seconds to go."
Connaughton made the first of two free throws with 28 seconds left to tie it. Collins drove the lane but lost the ball. In the ensuing scramble a jump ball was called with 0.6 seconds left and the possession arrow belonged to South Florida. The Bulls inbounded the ball under the basket but a lob was knocked away at the buzzer.
Connaughton made two free throws with 3:53 left in overtime to give Notre Dame the lead for good at 49-48. The Irish extended the lead to 54-50 on a 3 by Atkins with 29 seconds to go.
After a turnover by each team, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick hit a 3 for South Florida with 2.5 seconds left. Atkins made one of two free throws with 1.6 seconds left and after another Bulls turnover, Connaughton made two free throws with one-tenth of a second left for the final margin.
"I tried to be confident all throughout the game. I really didn't hit anything all game, though," said Atkins, who came in averaging 12.4 points. "But Coach gives me the confidence to just keep playing, keep shooting. You know, I got the balls thrown to me, and I just knocked it down."
The Bulls set a conference record this season by allowing 56.9 points per game.
"Well, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I love the way we play," Heath said. "I'd like to get a little bit more maybe transition baskets and get a little bit more penetration and kick and some things like that. But I have no problems. I don't apologize at all for how hard my guys defend. I'm proud of it. I think there's probably 90 percent of the coaches that would love to do the same thing. So there's no apologies."