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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Jackson Shines Despite Loss

Chris Khorey | Friday, March 16, 2007

NEW YORK – Notre Dame was on its heels.

The three point shooting that had carried the Irish offensively for much of the first half had dried up and No. 16/20 Notre Dame was trailing No. 9 Georgetown 76-69 with five minutes left in the game.

Then point guard Tory Jackson took over. Jackson slashed to the hoop on three straight possessions, scoring seven points in a row and tying the game at 76.

Although the immediate news on Friday was bad for the Irish – Notre Dame went on to lose 84-82 after senior guard Russell Carter’s game-winning three attempt drew back iron with 5 seconds left – Jackson’s emergence as a scoring threat and his newfound ability to take over a game by slashing to the hoop are good news that will extend into the NCAA tournament beginning next week and over the next three years.

Jackson was thrown into the starting lineup Dec. 30 against Stony Brook after former starter Kyle McAlarney was suspended. Jackson went through some growing pains at first, but he has blossomed late in the season.

The difference in Notre Dame’s two match-ups with the Hoyas this year is evidence of Jackson’s emergence.

In the first matchup, in Washington, D.C. Jan. 6, Jackson scored just five points and had four turnovers to go with his three assists and four rebounds. The Irish lost that game, 66-48.

Friday, Jackson scored 20 points, pulled down eight rebounds, had five assists, and only turned the ball over twice. And even though the Irish lost, they scored 82 points, 34 more than their last outing against Hoyas.

Next year, with McAlarney back, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey will have a problem every coach would love to have. He’ll have two experienced point guards who can score. McAlarney is a better shooter, while Jackson is better at driving.

As for this year’s Irish, they enter next week’s NCAA Tournament having won seven of their last ten games and fresh off probably their one of their best ever showings in the Big East tournament.

The only other time Notre Dame reached the semifinals in New York, in 2002, they lost to then-No.19 Connecticut 82-77. This year, they fell just few inches (literally) from upsetting a potential No. 1 seed in Georgetown.

All of this bodes well for the coming weeks. The Irish will likely find themselves seeded somewhere between fourth and sixth, with a good chance to advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond if they continue to play as well as they have.

But none of this would have been possible without Jackson’s rapid improvement. Without his ability to take the reigns of the team when it needed him most, both in December and on Friday, this team might be looking at NIT bid.

Instead Notre Dame can relax on Selection Sunday, knowing it is in the Big Dance and just wondering where it will have to travel to and who it will play.

And with Jackson running the point, the Irish can look forward to ending the early March nail biting sessions they have become so accustomed to.

Who knows? Next year Notre Dame might be the team pulling out a close game against a tough opponent in the Big East tournament to keep its sights set on a top NCAA seed.

The sky’s the limit with this bunch.