PITTSBURGH — Mike Brey guided Notre Dame into the Sweet 16 on Saturday, and he did it with the heaviest of hearts.
When the Fighting Irish coach sat down at the news conference after a 67-64 overtime victory over Butler, he revealed that his mother, Betty, died Saturday morning at age 84.
“It was kind of a tribute to her. It was really a special night,” Brey said. “I think she was definitely with us down the stretch.”
It was an emotional night for the Brey, 56, who said he will fly to Orlando, Fla., to be with his family, including his father, brother and sister who live in that area.
His mother, a 1956 U.S. Olympic swimmer as Betty Mullen, was a huge influence on Brey’s life. He called her and his father his “biggest mentors.”
“She used to call — I’d talk to her during the season and very rarely did I get ‘Hey, Mike, how you doing?’ ” he said. “It’s like, ‘Have you got them ready? Are they ready? I think we can beat Duke, Mike.’ It’s unbelievable. She was intense.”
Notre Dame emerged victorious Saturday with a big assist by senior wing Pat Connaughton, who came up with a key defensive play late in the second half and hit a clutch 3-pointer in overtime to help the third-seeded Fighting Irish reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.
Butler junior Kellen Dunham, quiet all night, hit a tying 3-pointer from the top with 2:58 left in regulation, but neither team scored again until overtime.
Connaughton then delivered one of several big plays, blocking a 3-point shot by Dunham from the corner in the final two seconds of regulation to force OT.
Dunham, Butler’s leading scorer this season at 16.8 points per game, was held to eight on 2-for-13 shooting.
“He was able to get some clean looks and I think the clean ones he got, he wasn’t able to knock down,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “Having said that, I think they did a good job on him.”
In overtime, Connaughton made a 3-pointer from the right corner, giving Notre Dame a 62-59 lead with 3:08 left.
Sophomore Steve Vasturia helped put it away with a 3-pointer with 1:22 left to give the Fighting Irish a four-point lead. Vasturia, who only had three points in the second-round win over Northeastern on Thursday, had a career-high 20 points.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame’s leading scorer, sealed the win on a layup with 18 seconds left. He finished with 16 points and Demetrius Jackson added 13.