Double overtime in South Bend
Steve Vasturia made sure Notre Dame didn't let Clemson rally back and force a third overtime.
The Fighting Irish led most of the way against the Tigers on Tuesday night, going up by as many as nine points early in the second half, by seven points with just under 3 minutes remaining in regulation and by four with 24 seconds left in the first overtime before Vasturia hit two 3-pointers in the second overtime to help Notre Dame pull out the 68-64 victory.
"We had it won a couple times, we handed it back a couple times, but found a way to win it," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell blamed his team's offensive struggles.
"We're just not as talented offensively as we need to be. We're very inconsistent shooting," he said.
Vasturia hit the first 3 to give the Irish a 63-62 lead early then added a second with 62 seconds left that gave Notre Dame a 66-64 lead. Pat Connaughton then added a pair of free throws to help the Irish overcome a career-high 30 points and 14 rebounds by Clemson's K.J. McDaniels.
Vasturia said he was open because the Tigers were focusing on Eric Atkins, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer in overtime against Boston College 10 days earlier.
"A lot of teams are going to key on Eric just by the way he scores and creates. If we have open looks, we're expected to shoot them and we're confident we can make them," he said.
Atkins said Vasturia, who was 1-of-5 from the field and 0-of-3 from behind the arc heading into the second overtime, showed a lot of confidence.
"He's not scared of the moment and I love that about him," he said.
McDaniels said the baskets by Vasturia were key
"He hit some big shots, and they were hard to cover. In the end, they came up with some clutch shots," he said.
The Fighting Irish (13-12, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) avoided falling below .500 for the first time this late in the season since finishing 14-16 during the 1998-99 season in John MacLeod's last year as coach.
Brey said the victory was "huge" for the struggling Irish.
"We would have been really struggling if we didn't win this game," he said.
Clemson (15-8, 6-5) lost back-to-back games for just the second time this season.
McDaniels said the Tigers need to show the same intensity at the beginning of the game as they did at the end.
"We're going to learn from this," he said.
Both teams squandered chances to win the game earlier. Rod Hall could have given the Tigers, playing on only a day's rest after losing at Syracuse on Sunday, a one-point lead with 4.6 seconds left, but missed the first of two free throws, sending the game into overtime.
The Irish opened a 60-56 lead in the first overtime on a three-point play by Connaughton, but couldn't hang on. The Tigers scored two baskets in the final 10 seconds and Landry Nnoko then stole the inbounds pass. After being fouled by Connaughton with 8.4 seconds left, Nnoko, a 57 percent free-throw shooter, made both to tie the score at 60.
After another turnover by Atkins, McDaniels missed a long jumper at the first overtime buzzer.
"There were a few times when I looked up at the scoreboard and said, 'We got this,'" Atkins said. "Then they made some plays and got a couple of turnovers and they tied it back up again."
McDaniels, who also had five blocked shots, was 13-of-24 from the field, while the rest of the Tigers were 11 of 46. The only other Clemson player in double figures was Hall with 12 points. Zach Auguste matched his career-high with 14 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds. Connaughton added 13 points and seven rebounds and Vasturia finished with 11 points.
The Irish out-rebounded Clemson 43-40 and had a 30-26 edge in points in the paint. But Clemson forced 12 turnovers and had 16 points off turnovers compared with just two for the Irish.
Notre Dame freshman Demetrius Jackson, who has been struggling lately, was not at the game. Brey said he is taking some time off to focus on academics. Brey said Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame's leading scorer, may have broken his finger in the first half, although he continued to play.
The Irish have now won nine of their last 10 overtime games.