Kevin Brennan '07 | January 22, 2019
This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Not again. Not with this group.
Fresh off a momentous victory over North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Mike Brey’s Notre Dame team seemed poised to break through in the NCAA Tournament after a decade of disappointments. The Fighting Irish entered the first round in Pittsburgh seeded third in the 2015 tournament’s Midwest region and favored by 12 points over Northeastern. Yet at halftime the Irish clung to a four-point lead, and the ghosts of Marches past seemed to be circling PPG Paints Arena.
Jack Swarbrick ’76, Notre Dame’s director of athletics, pulled his coach aside. “You need to be Five Overtime Mike,” he told Brey.
Swarbrick was referring to one of the most unusual games in program history. On February 9, 2013, Notre Dame defeated Louisville 104-101 after 26 lead changes and five overtimes. One of the lasting memories of that night at Purcell Pavilion was the contrast in coaches: Rick Pitino on one side, increasingly agitated as the game wore on, and Brey on the other, looking like he’d never had so much fun.
“The difference was, Coach Brey was enjoying it,” remembers Pat Connaughton ’15, then a sophomore, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds in an astounding 56 minutes. “His energy was excitement. Happy to be able to continue to compete.”
Two years later, Swarbrick’s words resonated with Brey as his team returned to the floor in Pittsburgh. He came out consciously more relaxed in the second half and transferred that calm to his players. The Irish survived the gritty challenge from the Huskies and went on to beat Butler and Wichita State en route to the program’s first Elite Eight matchup since 1979.
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