Demetrius Jackson’s late-game heroics send Irish to Elite Eight
Marek Mazurek | Saturday, March 26, 2016
PHILADELPHIA — When Wisconsin junior forward Vitto Brown made a 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 56-53 lead with 25 seconds left in the game, it looked like the Irish were all out of magic.
But just as it did against Michigan and Stephen F. Austin, No. 6-seeded Notre Dame (24-11, 11-7 ACC) refused to be sent back to South Bend.
As soon as Brown’s shot fell through the hoop, junior Irish guard Demetrius Jackson took command of the game.
Jackson rushed down the court and finished with a layup to pull Notre Dame within one, at 56-55, with 19.3 seconds left.
It seemed like the Irish would have to play the foul game and hope No. 7-seeded Wisconsin (22-13, 12-6 Big Ten) missed free throws.
But Jackson had other plans.
The Badgers inbounded the ball to junior forward Nigel Hayes. Hayes pivoted and was stripped by Irish sophomore forward Bonzie Colson. The ball skirted to Jackson who laid it off the glass to give the Irish a 57-56 lead with just 14 seconds left.
“Coach did a great job recognizing and letting us know that we had a foul to give,” Jackson said of the game’s pivotal sequence. “So we had a really aggressive trap, and then Bonzie made a great defensive play, getting his hands on it. It kind of fell into my arms and I just wanted to put it in and finish it. … I just wanted to be aggressive defensively, just trying to get a steal and win the game, trying to make a game-winning play.”
Badgers junior guard Bronson Koenig missed a wild layup on Wisconsin’s next possession and Irish junior forward V.J. Beachem came down with the rebound to seal the victory. Beachem knocked down his two free throws and on Wisconsin’s last-ditch effort, Jackson came up with Notre Dame’s 10th steal of the night — tied for the second most ever in an NCAA tournament game.
After two more Jackson free throws, Notre Dame made it official and advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, beating Wisconsin 61-56.
In the closing seconds, Jackson made three game-winning plays and the junior now finds himself at the helm of an Irish squad that is one game away from breaking into the Final Four.
“We had a lot of pressure on us with what we were able to do last year,” Jackson said. “So to be able and come back this year with all that weight on our shoulders … I think it’s good for us to establish our own identity and get back there.”
For the third straight contest, however, Notre Dame’s chances of advancing were shaky for most of the game.
The Irish trailed by as many as nine in the first half and five minutes before the break, the Irish were shooting 23 percent from the field and had seven turnovers — a stat line eerily similar to the Michigan game where the Irish trailed by as much as 13.
Jackson was 1-for-7 in the opening half and senior forward Zach Auguste wasn’t far behind at 1-for-5. The only Irish player with an efficient first half was sophomore guard Matt Farrell, who lead the team with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting.
“We weren’t doing well offensively,” Farrell said. “Our efficiency was low, taking some bad shots, missing some open shots. We had a sloppy first half. We came into halftime not worried though, we’re never worried about our offense. … We knew our shots were going to fall at some point.”
“I laughed, I said, ‘how bad are we playing?’ and we all kind of laughed about it,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “Thank God we had Matt Farrell or we’d have been dead in the water.”
After halftime, the Irish looked poised to make a run.
Two minutes into the half, a Colson block lead to an Auguste layup and a 3 from V.J. Beachem cut Wisconsin’s four-point halftime lead to 29-26. The Badgers weathered Notre Dame’s run though, and the Irish didn’t take the lead until eight minutes to play in the game when the officials reversed a charging foul in favor of Notre Dame to give Jackson two free throws.
“I think in the second half we were moving the ball better, getting it side to side, getting it inside and out,” Beachem said. “And we just had better movement and our shots were just a little more open. And all of us were able to knock them down. Just the way that we attack really opened up, really opened up the outside shot for all of us.”
Though, Jackson’s late-game heroics will be what most fans remember from this game, Beachem’s second half performance was a key for Notre Dame’s comeback victory. The Fort Wayne, Indiana, native had 16 second-half points and finished the night 7-for-11 from the field.
“The guys just keep finding me and I’ve just been fortunate enough to knock them down,” Beachem said.
The Badgers refused to go away, however. Two consecutive baskets for junior guard Zak Showalter at the six and a half minute mark made it clear the game would be decided in the final minutes.
“We’ve been in that position so many times this year,” Jackson said. “We’ve been in game situations, where the final four minutes are really crucial and we’ve been in game situations where we’ve taken punches and we’ve really bounced back.”
Neither team lead by more than five points in the waning minutes of the contest and Brey talked about his team’s familiarity with playing in close games.
“There is a great will,” Brey said. “And we’ve been in this situation a lot, we kind of like playing from that hole. I don’t want to overcoach it. I don’t want to be up five [points] with five minutes to go on Sunday. I won’t know what to do.”
“Just sticking with it,” Jackson said of the key to pulling out late victories. “We’ve been in that mode all year. We’ve been in situations where we’ve taken a punch, where we’ve maybe been down and it kinda doesn’t look too good and we just keep believing, keep fighting and keep giving ourselves a chance to win. Tonight was just another showcase of that.”