PITTSBURGH -- The hex of March has been replaced by the luck o' the Irish.
For the first time since 2003, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame outlasted the Butler Bulldogs 67-64 in overtime Saturday. The Irish had failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament in their previous six attempts, a fact coach Mike Brey was keenly aware of, even if he insisted he wasn't worried about it.
"It certainly drives me to make a run in this thing," he said. "It's kind of the unfinished business in our program."
It didn't happen easily for the Irish.
Their opener against Northeastern went down to the last possession and their round of 32 game against Butler to an extra stanza.
In each game, the team known for its 3-point shooting shot poorly. The Irish were 8-for-26 from long distance in the two games.
Instead, they were forced into two meat-grinder games against teams that preferred low-scoring, low-possession affairs, rather than Notre Dame's ideal stretch game.
Notre Dame has been viewed as a team too pretty offensively and not staunch enough defensively to advance far in the tournament. That the Irish won both games in a different fashion might recast their image.
Star of the weekend: Jerian Grant. The guard did what he's done all season for the Irish -- namely, everything. In two games, he scored 33 points, dished out 10 assists and pulled down eight rebounds.
He also played every minute of both games, including one that went overtime.
Both of the Irish's games came down to the wire, and Grant was involved in both of the decisive plays.
Against Northeastern, it was Grant who swiped the ball from Quincy Ford and drove coast-to-coast for a dunk that gave Notre Dame a breathable, six-point lead.
Against Butler, it was Grant who made the critical dish (see below) to finally end the Bulldogs' threat.
The big moment in Pittsburgh: With the Irish up 62-59, Grant calmly dribbled out on the wing while eyeing the shot clock as it counted down. With the seconds all but ticked away, he drove into the lane with Butler defenders collapsing around him. Grant dished the ball to Steve Vasturia in the corner. Vasturia, left wide open because of the attention concentrated on Grant, easily sunk the 3-pointer, and Notre Dame had all the cushion it needed for the win.
What's next for the Irish: Third-seeded Notre Dame heads to Cleveland, where it will face Wichita State in the Midwest Regional semifinal.
The Irish's regional final drought dates all the way back to 1979. That year, they ran into a decent little Michigan State player by the name of Earvin "Magic" Johnson.