Carson: Mike Brey, Demetrius Jackson make the right calls down the stretch
Alex Carson | Monday, March 21, 2016
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — I thought Notre Dame was done.
Under the pressure of the NCAA tournament and the bright lights of New York, the Irish were wilting. In the matter of seven minutes, sixth-seeded Notre Dame’s 62-55 lead turned into a 75-70 deficit.
And just two minutes remained.
For 31 minutes Sunday, the Irish had handled pretty much whatever 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin threw at it defensively, but in that seven-minute stretch, it was going downhill.
There was freshman guard Rex Pflueger getting called for a charge on an out-of-control drive, junior guard Steve Vasturia missing a contested layup trying to do too much and three turnovers in a nine-possession stretch.
All the while, the Lumberjacks were staying poised, calm and collected in an attempt to solidify themselves as the tournament’s biggest Cinderella story.
But then, led by junior guard Demetrius Jackson, the Irish turned in two minutes of basketball so many knew this team was capable of doing.
In those final two minutes, Notre Dame made every possession count. Literally.
There were five full possessions in the final 120 seconds: The Irish scored on all three of theirs and held the Lumberjacks scoreless on their two.
The funny thing? Jackson and the Irish could have continued that panicked-looking performance they had put out over the previous seven minutes. But they didn’t.
Every move down the stretch was with purpose.
There was the great in-bounds play that fed Jackson and cut the lead to three. Then Notre Dame let Lumberjacks senior guard/forward Thomas Walkup take a semi-contested deep 3-pointer — and senior forward Zach Auguste came up with the big rebound with just over a minute on the clock.
Irish head coach Mike Brey knew what he wanted: a 2-for-1. And the Irish got a smart one, when Jackson drove the ball to the hole to get to the line for two with 47 seconds to play.
Other teams might have panicked in that situation and down by three, many would have launched the 3-pointer in an attempt at glory. But not Notre Dame on this night.
After another defensive stop and Auguste board, Brey had a timeout but chose not to use it.
Jackson drove and tried to get to the hole, but he was always asking a little too much of himself to hit there. But that aggressiveness forced a defensive breakdown from the Lumberjacks, with a double-team trying to keep Jackson from getting the bucket.
Auguste had his chance on the put-back — where he was fouled, mind you — but he missed as well.
Brey wanted to take advantage of “chaos,” he said. But more importantly, he kept the kid who hit the game-winning shot on the floor.
You see, had Brey taken a timeout to set a play up, he likely would’ve taken Pflueger out of the game for sophomore forward Bonzie Colson. Needing a bucket, Colson would’ve been a much better choice to have in than Pflueger, who hadn’t scored a field goal since March 5, especially given Colson’s ability to thrive in the lane.
But he didn’t take that timeout. And Pflueger stayed on the court, in position to win Notre Dame the game.
Unlike last year’s Elite Eight loss to Kentucky, where the Irish pushed too many of the wrong buttons, they pushed the perfect ones tonight.
And at the end of the day, that’s what good teams — led by great players — do. They rise to the occasion in the final minutes, make the plays and, you know, get a little bit of that luck any team needs to make a run.
A team of destiny? Perhaps.
We’ll answer that over a cheesesteak in Philadelphia next weekend.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.