PITTSBURGH — TV got its highlight, thanks to Demetrius Jackson.
A bona fide signature “moment” for all the NCAA Tournament promos.
Spinning. Behind-the-back dribble. No-look pass to Zach Auguste that ends in a dunk.
How many kids will be trying to re-create that in their driveway today?
But Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team was rescued Thursday afternoon by one of many uber-athletic plays by Jackson that will go down in the scorebook as a negative.
Notre Dame’s 69-65 flirtation with another chapter of tournament disaster against Northeastern easily could have gone the other way in the final 30 seconds.
A tip-in Scott Eatherton on a 3-pointer that banged in and out cut Notre Dame’s lead to 67-65 with 33 seconds to play. Pat Connaughton had trouble inbounding the ball. A pitcher by trade, Connaughton heaved a bullet as Jackson streaked downcourt.
An earlier eye injury didn’t help Jackson’s ability to locate the ball. It whizzed over his shoulder headed toward the end line. Somehow, Jackson’s amazing athletic ability allowed him to catch up with the ball and flip it back into play.
Normal players would have never caught up with it.
Jackson, though, is hardly anywhere near normal.
Northeastern’s Zach Stahl came up with the loose ball. The Huskies had no timeouts left. And Eatherton, who led Northeastern with 18 points and eight rebounds, was on the bench with four fouls — removed while the Huskies were on defense.
Northeastern worked the ball for 30 seconds without finding an opening until Jerian Grant came up with a steal that led to Auguste hitting two free throws and sealing the victory.
It was that close.
Had Jackson not been able to keep the ball alive, the clock would have stopped. Eatherton would have been able to re-enter the game, and the Huskies would have had possession under their own basket.
“I could barely see the ball, but I just tried to do my best to save it,” Jackson said of the critical play. “I should have made a better play. I should have caught the ball and knocked in the free throws.”
Adding context to what Jackson was able to do against Northeastern Thursday is important. His nine points, eight assists and two blocks were crucial, but under what circumstances they were able to happen was even more impressive.
Before he was smacked in the right eye with 2:43 left in the game, he had sustained a hand injury while tying up a Northeastern player for a defensive stop in the first half. Also in the first half, while grabbing for a loose ball, his right shoulder was yanked harder than a shoulder should be yanked.
He rubbed it. Flexed it. Then played on.
Jackson’s SportsCenter highlight, a good bet to part of the stock footage for March Madness, was a combination of pure athletic talent and chemistry between him and Auguste.
“We had a bad turnover, guys hustled down,” Jackson said of what led to the play with 6:35 in the game. “We should have done a better job getting back. Luckily (Grant and Connaughton) did a great job of scrapping that one out. I just picked (up the loose ball) and was able to do some of the things I do. Then Zach did a great job of finishing strong.
“He’s a big target; an easy target for me. I just throw it up to him. He’s got great hands so I know he’ll catch the ball. We’ve been working together for so long.”
“We’re close,” Auguste said of the relationship with Jackson. “We’ve clicked ever since (Jackson) came here. We love to get out in transition and play well together.”
“Unbelievable,” was the way Irish coach Mike Brey explained it. “That’s Top 10 (ESPN) SportsCenter; Top Five. I don’t even remember what he did — boom, boom, boom, boom. We get a dunk on it. His strength and confidence made the rest of the guys confident.”
This time of year, confidence — and an amazing athletic ability — can mean so much.