It looked a little dark for a while. To be totally honest with you, I'm writing this without much of a clue of what just happened. Throughout this magical 2 year run, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team has had a unique ability to dig deep and find the right lightning strike to survive and advance. Friday night was no exception, as the Irish found a miracle gear late in their contest with the Wisconsin Badgers to advance to their second consecutive Elite 8. V.J. Beachem kept the Irish in the game with continued hot shooting and Demetrius Jacskson's late heroics delivered a 61-56 victory for Notre Dame.
A Vitto Brown 3 point FG with 27 seconds left put the Badgers up three and seemingly in control. Demetrius Jackson had entirely different plans. DJ made a tough layup, and then teamed up with Steve Vasturia to turn over Nigel Hayes. Jackson's second consecutive lay-up erased the Wisconsin lead and put the Irish up one. Then, the Irish did something that this author has a hard time believing: they got a critical stop. Bronson Koenig missed a difficult lay-up and Beachem came up with the huge defensive rebound. Even more importantly, VJ overcame his FT yips to give the Irish a 3 point lead.
Then, Demetrius Jackson made a brilliant play to seal the victory. With a 3 point lead, Jackson sliced in front of Koenig for a brilliant steal with 2.7 seconds remaining. This was an incredibly special play both in its execution and in his strategic value. Playing Koening aggressively 50+ feet from the rim up 3 meant the worst case scenario was the Badgers would have to inbound with 2.7 seconds remaining. Of course, the best case scenario is in play too, and that's just what happened. Jackson stripped Koenig, stepped up to the line, and sealed the victory.
NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 26, 2016
What a crazy game. It felt like the Irish couldn't hit a damn shot, and every time they turned the Badgers over, they struggled to score, but Beachem stepped up to keep ND in it, and DJ brought it home.
A couple of key things to think about while we absorb this:
The Irish went 13-14 from the FT line in this game, including a critical 5-6 from Auguste and 2 huge makes from Beachem.
Notre Dame won the turnover battle 17-12, but lost the offensive rebounding battle 13-11. It was incredibly frustrating to watch the Irish scratch out stops, yet fail to complete the play with the defensive board.
Beachem led the Irish with 19 points in 35 minutes of work. He was the clear MVP with an efficient 7-11 shooting night including 3-5 from deep.
Auguste got his double double. He chipped in a critical 13 and 12 for the night.
Jackson's heroics are his headline, but he did finish with 16 points in 37 minutes of work. It wasn't his most efficient performance with 3 turnovers and 6-18 shooting, but you advance on results, not style points, and he delivered when it mattered.
The first half of Steve Vasturia's homecoming didn't go as planned. The junior had a rough night, but lives to fight another day.
Here's where I also have to admit that I'm happier Mike Brey is coaching than Joe Schueller. Matt Farrell was fantastic and made a very significant contribution to the Irish offense. He struggled a little on defense, but he was very efficient on offense, with the highlight of his 3 assists being a perfect lob to Auguste on a great PnR. Farrell finished with 7 points on 3-5 shooting in 28 minutes of playing time. Good on you Matt.
Matt Ryan's contribution will likely be overlooked because he missed his only shot, but he did pick up 4 defensive rebounds and defended well.
There will be more to say between now and Easter Sunday, when the Irish face either UNC or Indiana in their second straight Elite 8. For now, we can all catch our breath and get our heads back together while the Irish continue to dig out crazy wins.