Behind the scenes of ESPN’s coverage of Louisville-Notre Dame’s 5OT college basketball thriller

Samantha Ponder interviews Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey after the Irish defeated Louisville in five overtimes on Saturday. (ESPN)

ESPN was able to capture another historic night on the hardwood when the host, No. 25 Notre Dame topped No. 11 Louisville, 104-101 in five overtimes this past Saturday.

The game ended in regulation tied at 60 before both teams powered through the extra sessions making for 3 hours and 40 minutes of riveting television. ESPN’s Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Samantha Ponder had the call of the Top 25 matchup and the College GameDay presented by State Farm crew of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps were also on hand to witness the excitement.

Veteran ESPN producer Phil Dean was in the truck making the critical calls to get the viewers the best possible view from Purcell Pavilion. While Dean was not on-hand for the unforgettable 6 overtime game between Connecticut and Syracuse during the Big East Championship in 2009, he did produce the seven-overtime Arkansas football win over Ole Miss in 2001. So, five overtimes is nothing to him – well, almost nothing!

When a game goes into OT, what normal procedures have to be executed regarding air time, commercials, etc.? What communications are made?
The associate director works with Bristol on commercial breaks but we are very flexible. At the end of this regulation, we made the decision to stay and show a highlight of ND’s Jerian Grant, who scored 12 points in 45 seconds to lead the Irish comeback. The first called timeout of each overtime is a media timeout. Again, we can choose on-site whether or not we want to stay or go based on what had happened in the telecast.

As each additional OT took place, what other concerns come to the forefront? How is your “game plan” altered?
Our focus and game plan became strictly on documenting each possession, play or turnover, while also capturing the emotion of the coaches, players and fans. During the overtimes, players began fouling out left and right. As the game and each overtime progressed, each play became that much more critical and important to the outcome of the game. Our philosophy was to do a video recap of how regulation and each OT ended to update any new viewers who may have joined the telecast.

Any insights you can share from your communications to Dan, Dick and Sam?
Dan did fantastic job of constantly reminding viewers of which players and stars had fouled out of game. Notre Dame had a player who didn’t play in regulation [Garrick Sherman] but was a major factor in overtime scoring 17 points — which is unbelievable. On a side note, as Dick kept mentioning during the extra periods, he actually had to get up between the third and fourth overtimes to use the restroom because the game was so long! It was a tremendous team effort by both the game and College GameDay crews in the truck and on the court. It was fun to be part of such a historic night.

Ponder, who was the game’s reporter, found herself a spectator as much as a reporter as the game marched on one overtime after another. “Normally, I try not to say much toward the very end of the game unless it’s absolutely necessary because I don’t want to interrupt the flow of a huge play,” she said. “But obviously, I didn’t anticipate a football game. Watching the difference between [opposing coaches] [Rick] Pitino and [Mike] Brey through overtime was one of the most contrasting things I’ve ever seen in sports.”

Keri Potts contributed to this post.