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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Jackson’s best game of the season propels Irish to key Big East victory

Chris Hine | Friday, February 1, 2008

Yes, Luke Harangody finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds against Providence and nailed two huge free throws to tie the game with 18 seconds remaining, but Notre Dame would have lost Thursday night without the play of Tory Jackson.

Jackson played his best game of the season against the Friars, picking up the slack for a struggling Kyle McAlarney by scoring 14 points. But most importantly, Jackson did what he does best, distributed the ball to his teammates when Notre Dame needed it most.

Forward Rob Kurz hit a three to begin overtime and Jackson made it possible with his dribble penetration and kickout. Later in overtime, with Notre Dame up two, Jackson stole the ball from Providence guard Dwain Williams, then found an open Ryan Ayers who drilled a 3-pointer. On Notre Dame’s next two possessions, Jackson drove into the lane and found Harangody each time, allowing the Irish to take a seven-point lead.

“I didn’t feel like I had to make something happen, I felt like I could make something happen,” Jackson said. “Once I got in the lane, I felt like I could drive because the big men kept coming up to get charges, so I felt like I could drop it off to the side and [Harangody] was there three times in overtime.”

And when Providence guard Brian McKenzie decided he was going to drain two ridiculously-long 3-pointers to keep the Friars alive, it was Jackson who hit three of four free throws down the stretch to make sure Providence wouldn’t return from the dead.

And it was Jackson who sent the game into overtime by coming up with a key steal on Providence’s last possession of regulation. The 5-foot-11 guard followed Providence forward Geoff McDermott around a screen, knocked the ball away and nearly made a 30-footer that would’ve ended the game.

“I was sneaky. I’m thankful for being short right now,” Jackson said of the steal. “He wouldn’t of seen me if I was a big guy.”

Harangody’s clutch free throws made Jackson’s unsung heroics possible. The soft-spoken Harangody, who is a candidate for the Naismith award, turned into a creature possessed out on the floor. For example, nine seconds into the second half, Harangody made a layup, was fouled, and subsequently began throwing a few chest bumps into the air before finally connecting with junior Zach Hillesland. But he would need to suppress that intensity at the free throw line, with the game hanging in the balance.

Harangody pulled a Dwight Schrute, the popular “Office” character who once claimed he could raise and lower his heart rate at will, and calmed himself enough to knock down the free throws.

“I just had to stay poised, stay confident and concentrate,” Harangody said. “It was just one of those times when you can’t be as intense.”

For Irish coach Mike Brey, the play of Harangody and Jackson came as no surprise.

“I thought our two sophomores would not let us lose the game,” Brey said. “They made big plays at big times.”

The Irish found a way to win when one of their main scorers, McAlarney, had an off night. It wasn’t just Jackson hitting the big shots either. Hillesland knocked down a few jumpers, Ayers finished with 10, including the big 3-pointer in overtime, and Kurz had another steady 11-point performance.

But Jackson’s outburst Thursday gave his team, and most importantly, Jackson himself, the confidence that he can score a few baskets when his teammates struggle.

That only means trouble for the rest of the Big East.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu