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March Madness: Notre Dame edges Rutgers in 2OT, finalizes men's bracket

March Madness: Notre Dame edges Rutgers in 2OT, finalizes men's bracket
Notre Dame's Blake Wesley scored eight points and totaled six rebounds in a win over Rutgers in the First Four of the 2022 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. Photo by Fighting Irish Media

March 17 (UPI) -- Paul Atkinson Jr. scored a game-high 26 points and Notre Dame beat Rutgers in double overtime in the final First Four game of the 2022 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, finalizing first round matchups.

Atkinson made 13 of 15 field goal attempts in the 89-87 victory Wednesday at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Fighting Irish advanced out of the 11-seed matchup to a first-round meeting with No. 6 Alabama.

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"I just wanted to battle for these guys," Atkinson told reporters. "It's potentially my last year. I just wanted to battle. A lot of people don't get this chance."

Atkinson scored the go-ahead basket with 1.4 seconds remaining in the second bonus period. Rutgers' Ron Harper Jr. tied the score at 87-87 with a deep 3-pointer one possession earlier. Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley drove to the rim on the other end, but misfired on an off-balance shot.

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Atkinson jumped into the area and snatched an offensive rebound. He immediately jumped back up and made a quick shot off the backboard to give the Irish their final advantage. The final buzzer sounded before the Scarlet Knights could hoist up a final shot.

"We've got an unbelievably gritty group," Notre Dame guard Cormac Ryan said. "We don't quit. I think you saw that. I'm so proud of how we played and battled. ... Our fight. You can't really teach that. It's contagious."

Notre Dame shot 51.7% in the win and totaled six steals with just five turnovers. Rutgers shot 50.7%, but totaled 13 turnovers. The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded the Irish 44-32 and owned a 6-2 edge in blocks and a 22-17 advantage in assists.

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The game featured 17 lead changes.

Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell led the team to a 41-46 lead in the first half. Notre Dame forward Nate Laszewski went on to give the Irish a 69-67 lead with 2:02 remaining in regulation.

Rutgers guard Geo Baker answered with a game-tying jump shot about 22 seconds later. Neither team scored on the next four possessions, which sent the game to overtime.

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The lead switched hands several times in the first bonus period. Rutgers Paul Mulcahy made a clutch 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Scarlet Knights a 79-77 edge, but the Irish answered with a Wesley layup six seconds later to prompt the second overtime.

The teams continued to battle down the stretch and looked destined for another bonus period when Harper made his game-tying 3-pointer. But Atkinson sent the Scarlet Knights home with his strong offensive rebound and finish.

"If there is a better game in the NCAA tournament, I gotta see it," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "That was an unbelievable college basketball game.

"They are really tough and fearless. I'm just really proud of our group because we just kept hanging in."

Ryan totaled 16 points for the Irish. Laszewski scored 18 off the Notre Dame bench. McConnell scored a team-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss.

Harper totaled 22 points, four assists and four rebounds for the Scarlet Knights.

The Irish battle Alabama in the first round at 4:15 p.m. EDT Friday on TBS. The winner will advance to a second-round meeting with No. 3 Texas Tech or No. 14 Montana State.

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