South Florida loses to Notre Dame 57-53 in OT

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.”