In September of 2012, Demetrius Jackson announced his commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and head coach Mike Brey after the coaching staff spent years trying to reel in the local point guard phenom. That familiarity with the staff and the university led Jackson to stay home, making him one of if not the biggest recruit in the Mike Brey era at Notre Dame.
Despite the hype and pressure heaped on the kid from Mishawaka, Jackson delivered in a big way to the Irish program, but not before he suffered some struggles adapting in his freshman year, which included a brief suspension by his coach to sort out his academic work load. But to his credit, Jackson stuck it out in South Bend and worked hard to develop both on and off the court.
In his sophomore year, Jackson helped the Irish in a key supporting role to a program-record 32 wins, Elite 8 berth, and an ACC Championship. He followed that up as the unquestioned leader of the Irish attack in a junior year in which he landed on the All-ACC 2nd team and led Notre Dame on a return trip to the Elite 8, helping to further cement his legacy as an all-time Irish great.
Demetrius declared for the NBA draft shortly following the Irish's thrilling NCAA Tournament run and will likely continue an unlikely run of Irish draft picks following Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton last year. Jackson has a realistic chance to be Notre Dame's first NBA lottery pick since 1992, when LaPhonso Ellis was taken fifth overall by the Denver Nuggets.
I'll be honest; I could've easily made a list of 10 games, so you won't find the Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin, last year's regular season games against Michigan State or Purdue (remember this dunk?), or this year's game at Duke. I even cheated and technically went with 6 games for this list.
What can I say? The guy had a pretty good career. But anyway, here goes nothing, my list of Demetrius Jackson's best games in an Irish uniform:
5. ACC Semifinal vs.
Jackson's effort got somewhat lost in this one, but he was great against Duke in last year's ACC semis, scoring 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting and picking up 5 assists. Perhaps even more important was his performance on the defensive end, as he grabbed three steals and was otherwise glued to Duke's Tyus Jones the entire night, holding his point guard counterpart to just 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting.
Jackson's defensive performance allowed head coach Mike Brey's game-plan to flourish, as the Irish essentially opted to let Jahlil Okafor do his damage on the inside in favor of keeping Duke's guards from finding any shooting range. It proved to be a brilliant strategy, as it held Duke to one of its worst offensive outings, but it worked because of Jackson's (and Jerian Grant's) tenacity to give the freshman Jones 40 minutes of hell.
4. Round of 32 vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks - March 20, 2016 - Brooklyn, NY
Jackson kept his shot attempts low in this one, but he certainly made them count, as the Irish captain went 6 for 8 from the field, scoring a team-high 18 points in the dramatic victory over the Lumberjacks to advance to the second weekend of the tournament for the second year in a row. We'll all remember the dunk, but he was just huge down the stretch, which included 4 straight points with the Irish down 5 with under two minutes remaining.
That was Jackson's leadership, which he demonstrated many times throughout his career and especially this last season. When Notre Dame's backs were against the wall, he just never quit and would do everything he could to will his team to victory in the biggest moments. Without that trait, Notre Dame might have been a forgettable NIT team but instead, Jackson led the Irish to a great season and one of its best tournaments in program history.
3. Regular Season vs. Louisville Cardinals - March 4, 2015/February 13, 2016 - Louisville, KY/South Bend, IN
Ok, so I'm cheating here, but Jackson was Notre Dame's best player in both regular season games against Louisville these past two seasons. In 2015, at Louisville no less, Jackson led a struggling Irish offense with 21 points against one of the best defenses in the country. He also added 5 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists, filling up the stat sheet in perhaps Notre Dame's biggest true road victory of the season. Also, this play was awesome.
He may have outdone himself this past season, when at home, the Irish again knocked off the Cardinals behind Jackson's game-high 27 points and 5 assists. Jackson owned the first half in which none of his teammates were really doing much offensively, keeping the Irish in the game that they ultimately took control of in the second half. He was also terrific defensively, helping to hold a great Louisville backcourt to some of their worst shooting efforts on the season.
2. Elite 8 vs. North Carolina Tar Heels - March 27, 2016 - Philadelphia, PA
Jackson's last game in an Irish uniform on the biggest of stages was terrific, as he seemingly single-handedly went toe-to-toe with a torrid UNC offense and kept Notre Dame in the game most of the way. Even though the Tar Heels ended Notre Dame's excellent tournament run and Jackson's college career that evening, the story was Demetrius, walking away in tears after leaving everything he had on the floor.
Jackson scored 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting. This included a 5-point outburst that started a 12-0 Irish run in the second half in which Jackson also added a steal and an assist. Of course, Notre Dame took a brief lead following that run, but it was all UNC from there. That doesn't take away from how truly great Demetrius Jackson was on that night, his last before embarking on his NBA career.
1. Sweet 16 vs. Wichita State Shockers - March 26, 2015 - Cleveland, OH
Demetrius was the leading scorer and one of the architects of perhaps the best offensive performances in recent memory for Notre Dame, and it just so happened to come in the first Irish Sweet 16 victory in 36 years. Jackson scored 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting, which included threes on back-to-back possessions that sparked an Irish offensive explosion that turned a one-point second-half deficit into a runaway victory.
In the last two seasons of a program-record 56 wins, it's hard to peg the biggest one for Notre Dame, but it very well could've been this one. Beating a great Wichita State team to advance to the Elite 8 seemed to change the perception of Notre Dame as a consistently-good but seldom nationally-relevant program, especially given recent March history. Ever since, the conversation surrounding this program has been different and more elevated, and Jackson's performance was the best on a crucially important day that helped get it there.