SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eric Atkins opened the door at the end of regulation, then he slammed it shut on Boston College at the end of overtime.
After the Notre Dame senior guard got to the foul line on a controversial call and missed a free throw that would have won it with 0.7 seconds left in regulation, Atkins atoned by finding the mark on a winning 3-pointer that buried the Eagles at the final horn of a 76-73 overtime victory before a delirious crowd of 8,955 at the Joyce Center.
“That’s the first thing I said when I walked into the locker room: ‘That’s a senior play,’ ” said BC junior forward Ryan Anderson, who led the Eagles (6-15, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) with 21 points and six rebounds. “The kid is a senior and has been here a long time and that’s just a shot that seems to go in for guys who put in the work, and he’s a hard worker.
“It just [stinks] to be on the short end of that.’’
Atkins’s 3-point dagger punctuated his game-high 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc. It also enabled Notre Dame (12-10, 3-6) to snap a three-game losing streak in its first game against its former Big East foe as members of the ACC.
“When we were doing the alma mater, he was next to me and said, ‘Man, I owed you that one after missing the free throw,’ ” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “But I was happy for him because he’s had to lead under tough situations.’’
Atkins had to step up as Notre Dame’s playmaker after Jerian Grant, a 6-foot-5-inch redshirt junior guard who led the team with a 19-point average, was suspended in December for the spring semester for academic reasons.
“His style of play has changed a lot since losing his backcourt mate,’’ Brey said of Atkins. “And I was happy that he could deliver for us, and he certainly did.’’
Trailing, 66-65, with 5.1 seconds left in regulation, Atkins took an inbounds pass, raced across midcourt, and appeared to lose control of the ball as he attempted to pull up for a jumper. But he drew a whistle before the horn sounded; Olivier Hanlan was called for his third personal.
Asked about the play, BC coach Steve Donahue offered a weary, “I have no comment on it.’’
“That was a tough one,’’ said Hanlan, who was held to a season-low 5 points. “I thought I didn’t foul him, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I felt like he had just lost control.’’
“I was dribbling the ball down the court and I went to pull up and he slapped my hand down,’’ Atkins said. “I thought it should have been two shots, but I wasn’t going to do anything else with five seconds left.’’
Atkins tied the game when he made his first foul shot, but missed the second — as well as a quick putback from the lane after the rebound was tapped out to the foul line.
The Eagles entered the game on the heels of a 24-point romp over Virginia Tech Wednesday and appeared to follow the same blueprint for success Saturday. They shared the ball and whipped it around the court before finding a good shot, and played tough defense to build a 29-26 halftime lead. The advantage grew to 9 points in the second half, 35-26, on Joe Rahon’s key-top 3-pointer with 18:37 to go.
“There was big shot after big shot by both teams, and we competed,’’ Donahue said. “But Notre Dame played really well and there is nothing we can do about that, but I am really proud of the way we played.’’
The Eagles, however, lapsed into a nearly seven-minute scoring drought between Anderson baskets, and Notre Dame whittled BC’s lead to 37-36 on Atkins’s driving layup with 15:27 to go.
BC bounced back to build a 7-point lead, 45-38, on a 3-pointer by Alex Dragicevich, a Notre Dame transfer.
But the Irish continued to battle back, outscoring BC, 28-19, in the final nine minutes of regulation to send it overtime, where Atkins had the ball in his hands on Notre Dame’s final possession with a little more than 35 seconds left.
“I just knew that I wanted to take that last shot of the game,’’ Atkins said, “so that they didn’t have another chance.’’