For Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team, it was a St. Patrick’s Day — double-overtime victory in Ohio, red-eye flight to San Diego — not soon forgotten.
“My second press conference today,” coach Mike Brey said late Thursday afternoon at Viejas Arena, on the same day, technically, his team had secured an NCAA Tournament-opening victory nearly 2,000 miles east in Dayton.
Soon after midnight in Ohio, this happened:
Notre Dame’s Paul Atkinson Jr. put in a teammate’s missed shot with 1.4 seconds left in the second overtime, leading to an 89-87 victory against Rutgers.
The calendar showed March 17, so Brey summoned his inner leprechaun.
“Well,” Brey told reporters in Ohio, “let me start by saying Happy Patrick’s Day to everyone here. And you notice that Paul’s shot went in at 12:02 (EDT) on St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe there was a little bit of karma there.”
Not lingering, Notre Dame headed toward San Diego. The team’s flight landed about 3:45 am, said senior guard Dane Goodwin. “Probably rolled up to the hotel around 5,” I added.
Next is a West Regional game Friday, versus Alabama. Will a St. Patty’s Day hangover follow Notre Dame into the 1:15 pm tipoff at SDSU?
Jet lag could linger. Three players logged 40-plus minutes against Rutgers. If it becomes an attrition game — Brey’s bench runs just two deep in many games — the edge should go to well-rested Alabama, which last played a week ago.
“They’re not quite as deep as we are,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats, whose team is a four-point favorite on betting lines.
While the circumstances don’t seem conducive to Notre Dame lighting up SDSU’s arena with energy and precision, these players got a lifetime memory out of the bargain.
“Some guys slept on the plane, some guys couldn’t fall asleep,” said Atkinson, a graduate transfer from Yale. “People were trying to come down from the adrenaline of a long game and all the energy. I think everybody was just trying to get to San Diego and resting up.”
Senior guard Cormac Ryan called it a decently long flight, allowing the players “some time to cool our heels a little bit and relax, take it all in. And, kind of as soon as we touched down in San Diego, we were all happy that we accomplished what we wanted to do in Dayton and laser focused on the task at hand coming up.”
In Notre Dame’s favor, said Brey, is the NBA background of assistant athletic trainer Nixon Dorvilien. He was part of NBA performance staffs across 14 seasons’ worth of red-eye flights and quick turnarounds.
Brey noted that in AAU tournaments (not nearly as intense as an NCAA Tournament), his players logged as many as three games in a day. The coach added:
“Thank God the timeouts in the NCAA Tournament are almost a minute longer than (normal) — and the halftime is five minutes longer. We feel our guys are in pretty good shape. Old guys know how to play long minutes. And our older guys know how to do that.”
Notre Dame wasn’t the only bleary-eyed arrival to San Diego early Thursday. Wright State’s charter plane landed just after 1:30 am, its players riding a similar adrenaline rush.
“It’s five in the morning our time,” said Wright State coach Scott Nagy, whose team claimed its first NCAA Division I victory Wednesday night in Dayton, its home city. Nagy added: “We’re probably a little tired. But we’d rather be tired than not in it.”
Wright State will get a few hours more rest than Notre Dame, but the 4:27 pm matchup pits the 16th-seeded Raiders against Arizona, the tournament’s second overall seed.
Friday’s games at Viejas Arena
10:45 a.m.: (3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Montana State, TNT
1:15 p.m.: (6) Alabama vs. (11) Notre Dame, TNT
4:27 p.m.: (1) Arizona vs. (16) Wright State, truTV
6:57 p.m.: (8) Seton Hall vs. (9) TCU, truTV