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Floor General’ Jackson heart of Irish team

Chris Masoud | Thursday, March 18, 2010

 Taking the game-winning shot as time expires can be the most exciting play in all of sports. Make it, and you’re featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays and vaulted into legendary status in school history. Miss, and your entire career may be defined by what could have been.

So when senior guard Tory Jackson missed the game-winning 3 in a 69-68 loss to St. John’s, it could have marked the end of a brilliant four-year career.

“It looked good when I let it go, it felt good, but it didn’t end up going down,” Jackson said. “I think about it all the time, even when I hit the buzzer beater against Pittsburgh at halftime.”

Trailing No. 7 West Virginia by two points in the final seconds of the Big East tournament semifinals, Jackson had another good look at a game-winning 3, but was unrewarded as the Irish fell to the Mountaineers. Jackson said if the situation ever arises again, he won’t hesitate to let it fly.

“When Kobe and Jordan and all those guys take those shots, they miss a lot of game-winning shots,” Jackson said. “And when I look at it, I’ve missed some important shots, but I’m not going to lose confidence and not take that shot. I’m going to keep having confidence and taking that shot, and that’s what makes me me.”

Coupled with a passion for the game and the willingness to sacrifice individual success for the sake of the team, it was an easy decision for Irish coach Mike Brey to name Jackson one of the team’s captains.

“Unselfishness,” Jackson said. “Growing up, I always loved to get my team involved. I do whatever it takes to win. At the same time, especially when a guy’s hot, why not? If that’s going to help us win, I’d rather take the win than score 50 points and lose. That’s not good.”

A prolific scorer in high school, Jackson ranks third all time on the Michigan scoring list as the state’s two-time player of the year. Upon coming to Notre Dame, Jackson said he knew he would have to rely on his ball handling skills and court vision to break into a Big East starting lineup.

Leading the conference with 5.6 assists per game to go along with a top-10 assist-to-turnover ratio, it’s safe to say the senior guard has made the transition successfully.

“To do that and take care of the ball at the same time, it’s a great thing if it can get us more possessions,” Jackson said. “Being ranked up there in the assist-turnover ratio, that’s real good for me, that’s real good for any point guard.”

Playing in every contest since his first day at Notre Dame, Jackson had an immediate impact as a freshman. Named to the All-Big East rookie team, Jackson relied on his strengths as a defender before expanding his overall game.

“Just figuring out ways to stay on the floor,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t a big time, 30-point scorer, but I played well defensively when I was younger, especially sophomore year. As the years went on, I had to become a little bit of a scorer, getting more assists, and also defending the best player on the other team.”

Guarding the likes of Villanova point guard Scottie Reynolds can be a daunting task for any defender, let alone one who is 5-11. But what he lacks in size, Jackson said he makes up for in toughness

“I hate when anybody scores,” Jackson said. “It’s a passion. I take pride in my defense.”

When an injury to senior forward Luke Harangody was followed by losses to Seton Hall, St. John’s and Louisville, many considered the season over. But a string of six consecutive victories, including blowouts against No. 16 Pittsburgh and No. 22 Georgetown, has propelled Notre Dame to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson, who calls himself the floor general, says he embraces the task of stepping up and leading the team with a limited Harangody in the lineup.

“I love the challenge,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to pick up the slack for what Gody had.”

Jackson has answered the call, scoring 22 points against Connecticut in a victory many believed secured a tournament bid for the Irish. The senior guard was recently named to the Big East All-Tournament team, averaging 10.7 points, five assists and playing all 120 minutes in Madison Square Garden.

“It’s basketball,” Jackson said. “I’ve been playing this for awhile, so you kind of get that feeling, get into that zone where, especially when you get a mismatch, you got to have confidence, you got to have swag.”

Jackson said Notre Dame became his home on his first official visit: the infamous “Bush Push” football game in 2005. As he approaches his final days as a student-athlete, he will miss the sense of tradition he first felt in the stands as a senior in high school.

 “Just the whole lifestyle,” Jackson said. “It’s a traditional school, and I’m a pretty laid back guy. I love everything about it, the whole Golden Dome type, everything about the old school way because I’m an old school guy.”