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Men’s Basketball: Vic-Tory!

Fran Tolan | Friday, March 20, 2009

In what may have been Notre Dame’s final home game of the season, Irish point guard Tory Jackson gave fans a play they won’t soon forget.

After catching an inbounds pass with 7.9 seconds left, Jackson took the ball coast-to-coast for a contested layup in traffic to give the Irish a 70-68 win over New Mexico Thursday in the second round of the NIT.

New Mexico guard Dairese Gary drained two free throws to tie the game, but with a single streak upcourt, Jackson eliminated the need for overtime.

“We tried to get a good shot, just anybody that was open,” Jackson said. “We had seven seconds left and I felt like I could beat [my man]. And it happened and I’m still shocked right now.”

Jackson said he practices similar shots against Irish teammates like forwards Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody.

“In terms of his athletic skill set, he’s more of like a cornerback than a point guard,” Hillesland said of the 5-foot-11 Jackson. “… He jumped at the same time as the other guy did, he just hung longer than him, hung longer and was able to get a shot off.”

Jackson’s shot fell through the basket with 2.1 seconds left, just enough time for New Mexico to get off a desperation shot. As the buzzer sounded, Lobos guard Tony Danridge sent the ball off the backboard and rattling around the rim.

“The fact that we’re on our home court and we just hit a big shot with two seconds to go, if he had hit that one, that would have broken all of our hearts,” Irish guard Kyle McAlarney said.

After the ball dropped to the floor, though, the Irish swarmed the court and Jackson donned the Notre Dame Leprechaun’s hat.

Jackson’s heroics were only necessary after New Mexico came back from a 12-point second-half deficit. Harangody, who finished with a game-high 26 points, made a layup on Notre Dame’s first possession after intermission to give the Irish a comfortable 36-24 lead. But New Mexico chipped away and took its first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by guard Chad Toppert with 11:03 remaining.

“I never thought we could [pull] away from them,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They’re just too good a team, and they’re too good offensively. But I give our guys a lotta credit.”

The Lobos eventually built a 66-60 lead with 2:08 left but the Irish ran off eight straight points to take a two-point advantage. McAlarney hit a runner then Harangody notched six points with a layup and four free throws.

McAlarney said his team was in a situation similar to its first-round contest against UAB, when the Irish trailed by five points in the second half.

“Like against UAB, you get into the huddle and it goes through your mind that if we lose, we’re done,” the senior said. “And then, really it hits you when you’re in there and you look at the score. That kind of increases your focus and pisses you off a little bit, to be honest.”

Throughout much of the first half against New Mexico, the Irish looked as though they might cruise to victory. After Hillesland drained a pair of free throws with 12:21 left in the period, Notre Dame led 22-8. The Irish led comfortably until halftime, when they took a 34-24 edge into the locker room.

Brey compared Jackson’s game-winner to the shot former BYU great Danny Ainge made to beat Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA Tournament.

“We finally got the Danny Ainge play back 25 years later,” the coach said with a laugh. “It’s been a while to get that one back.”

Jackson, for his part, said he had never heard of the play, even from former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps.

“I try to hide away from Digger sometimes,” Jackson said.