Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The first game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament nearly produced a major upset.
Notre Dame, entering as a conference tournament champion for the first time in its history after winning the ACC title, had to survive against the Colonial Athletic champions from Northeastern, escaping with a 69-65 victory on Thursday.
The Huskies had a chance to win it down 67-65 after a Notre Dame turnover, but the Fighting Irish played strong defense and Jerian Grant came up with a steal in the final seconds. Zach Auguste was fouled after corralling the loose ball and sank two free throws to seal Notre Dame's sixth straight victory.
"That's a great win for us," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "They were really hard to guard. But I thought we had really key defensive possessions to escape with a win and I'm really proud of our group."
Auguste finished with 25 points and Grant chipped in 17 for the Irish (30-5), who captured the ACC crown with wins over Duke and North Carolina in the final two rounds of the tournament in Greensboro.
Notre Dame, seeded third in the Midwest Region, also halted a three-game NCAA Tournament losing streak and will play Butler on Saturday.
Scott Eatherton scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Northeastern (23-12), which was playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. David Walker added 15 points in defeat.
"We had an opportunity to tie the game up or grab the lead in the last possession," said Northeastern coach Bill Coen. "I think in the NCAA Tournament, that's about all you can ask for. I think what ultimately did us in was we just had way too many turnovers to beat a quality team like Notre Dame."
Notre Dame led for most of the contest, but never could shake the Huskies.
The Irish carried a four-point lead to the second half and quickly increased the margin to double digits at 37-27 with the first six points. It was an 11- point difference a few minutes later when Northeastern made a push with nine in a row.
Quincy Ford scored the first four and Walker's three-point play with just over 14 minutes left pulled the Huskies within 43-41. Auguste answered with a three-point play at the other end to start an 11-2 Notre Dame run. Grant scored the last four in that stretch to give the Irish a 54-43 lead with just under 10 minutes left
Northeastern again didn't quit and a few moments later used a 10-2 burst to claw within 65-61. The Huskies had a chance to make it closer, but Grant came up with a steal and a dunk to extend the lead to six.
A tip-in from T.J. Williams again made it a four-point game before Demetrius Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 for Notre Dame. Eatherton's putback made it 67-65 with 32.5 seconds to play and the Huskies got the ball back after Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton threw the ball away trying for a home run on the ensuing inbound pass.
The Irish turned it over only seven times, but forced 16 Northeastern turnovers, including the critical mistake by the Huskies in the final seconds.
Northeastern kept it close throughout the first half. The Huskies never trailed by more than five and held a few leads, the last coming at 24-22 on a Zach Stahl layup with just under four minutes remaining. The Irish responded with the next seven points for a 29-24 edge and took a 31-27 advantage to the intermission.
Grant was named a finalist for the Naismith Trophy as the most outstanding player in Division I men's basketball on Thursday ... Notre Dame missed the tournament last year and last won an NCAA tourney game in 2011 against Akron ... The Irish haven't advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2003 ... Northeastern lost to North Carolina in its last NCAA appearance ... The Irish won the only other meeting with Northeastern, a 72-45 rout in November 1997 at the Joyce Center.