CLEVELAND – It felt like a lot of other games this season.
A big early lead, a big opposition run before a charge at the end leads to victory.
That’s how it was for Notre Dame on Thursday night at the Quicken Loans Arena when they grabbed a double-digit lead, lost it to Wichita State, then used their offensive firepower to pull away late.
But in some many ways, it’s like no other win the Irish have had this year. Or this decade. Not even this century.
With an 81-70 triumph over the Shockers in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Semifinal Notre Dame is in the Elite Eight for the first time since the 1979 season. That’s a 36-year drought for a team that’s often been to the Big Dance but is left on the side without a date when the final songs are played.
No longer for head coach Mike Brey and his Irish, who will face over No. 1 seed Kentucky on Sunday at 7:49 P.M. central time for a shot at the second Final Four in school history.
“I’m sure whenever it ends I’ll be able to look back and it’s been an amazing season for us and when you add an ACC championship, and who we went through on Tobacco Road,” said Brey. “I don’t know if we’ve had a more special season in the history of our basketball program, but God, I love that I get to go to practice tomorrow with this group again.”
Demetrius Jackson led the Irish with 20 points and was instrumental to a fast Notre Dame start in which they led by as many as 13 points. Behind Fred VanVleet’s 25 points the Shockers cut the deficit to three by the half and actually got the lead with 16:41 to go.
After that it was all Irish. A quick 17-6 run put Notre Dame back up to stay and they even got the lead up to 17 late in the second half before the Wichita State closed the gap with some late points.
"That's the fun way to play and that's the way that we're at our best on both ends of the floor. So with defense, that definitely sparks it, and then going through it, it's like, you know, it's something that you just feed off of," said guard Pat Connaughton of the second half run. "It's like blood in the water, you feel it and you want to keep getting stops so you can keep running, it's something you can't get enough of.
"It is something that we pride ourselves on, and it's something that we're in that moment, we feel like we can run with anybody."
Connaughton had 16 points while Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia had 15 a piece in a win that was over three decades in the making.
The last time they had this shot they lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in Indianapolis. Oddly enough, that's the site of this year's Final Four. They can get there with a win that like Thursday night is like no other they've seen.