PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chris Holtmann started the season as an assistant coach on a program looking for a way to snap out of a minor funk. He ended it in charge at Butler, where the Bulldogs have restored their rightful place among college basketball’s toughest outs.
The Butler Way is back. It just won’t be going to the Sweet 16. Not this time.
Roosevelt Jones gutted out 23 points playing on a heavily wrapped left knee but the Bulldogs missed two shots to win in regulation before falling to Notre Dame 67-64 in overtime on Saturday night. Masters of March for most of the last decade, instead Butler (23-11) ceded the balance of power in Indiana — at least for this season — to the surging Irish.
“We just couldn’t make quite enough plays,” said Holtmann, who took over when Brandon Miller left for medical reasons last October. “But I can’t say enough about it. I think our guys played with great effort. They followed the game plan. We had it where we wanted it.”
Butler’s best chance to reach its fifth Sweet 16 this millennium ended in the last two seconds of regulation. Kellen Dunham’s shot from the corner was slammed into the ground by Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton and senior center Kameron Woods couldn’t convert an out of bounds alley-oop at the buzzer.
The Irish never trailed in overtime. Connaughton snapped a 59-all tie with a 3-pointer from the right corner. The senior captain — who has delayed a lucrative baseball career for one last go-round at Notre Dame — then shook his head as he raced back down the floor and said “They’re not gonna stop us.”
He was right. Dunham got the Bulldogs within a point with two free throws, but the Irish drilled their sixth — and last — 3-pointer of the game when Steve Vasturia knocked down a shot from the same spot as Connaughton.
“I thought our guys really fought and I give Notre Dame a lot of credit for pulling this one out,” Holtmann said. “I thought the key threes they hit there in the second half or, excuse me, in the overtime kind of broke it open a little bit.”
The Irish (31-5) advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003 just hours after coach Mike Brey lost his mother Betty to a heart attack at age 84.
“I think she was definitely with us down the stretch,” Brey said.
Notre Dame will play either Wichita State or Kansas in the regional semifinal on Thursday in Cleveland.
Jerian Grant scored 16 points for Notre Dame, including the clinching layup with 18 seconds left. Steve Vasturia led Notre Dame with 20 points. Demetrius Jackson added 13 points, and Zach Auguste had seven points and 13 rebounds for the Irish, who beat the Bulldogs for the first time in 26 years.
Grant, a senior who missed most of the 2013-14 season due to an academic issue, then split the defense and laid it in with the shot clock ticking down as the Irish matched their deepest run under Brey.
Notre Dame led by as much as 10 in the first half but the Bulldogs — as they tend to do this time of year — would not go away. Wearing reams of tape, compression pants and an unwieldy brace, Jones kept finding open space to get Butler back in the game.
A late 3-pointer by Vasturia helped the Irish go up 31-29 at the break, though the half ended with a flashback of sorts. Jones stepped in front of a Notre Dame pass at half court and heaved one at the basket that clanged off the back of the rim. It wouldn’t have counted — the red light came on before Jones let loose — but the moment vaguely resembled Gordon Hayward’s last-second launch against Duke in the 2010 title game.
That shot missed too, and the Blue Devils cut down the nets. The Irish have four long rounds to reach that destination but moved closer after becoming the last of Indiana’s four NCAA teams with a shot at playing in Indianapolis in two weeks.
Butler: Jones said he would have to be “tackled” to be kept out of the game. He made 9 of 19 shots while playing 44 of the game’s 45 minutes. … Senior guard Alex Barlow shot just 1 of 6 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts before fouling out early in overtime.
Notre Dame: Connaughton played in his school-record 137th game, breaking mark he shared with former point guard Tory Jackson. … Jackson made 4 of 8 shots two days after being raked across the eyes late in the round of 64 win over Northeastern and complaining of blurred vision afterward.
Butler loses seniors Woods and Barlow, but returns Dunham and Jones.
Notre Dame will try to reach the regional final for the first time since 1979.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.