Career night from Demetrius Jackson drives Notre Dame to victory

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Thirteen seconds of game action had elapsed early in the second half, barely enough time for Notre Dame junior guard Demetrius Jackson to step away, sit down, get a sip of water and catch his breath before he looked up.

Standing next to him on the sideline was Irish coach Mike Brey, who motioned for Jackson to drop whatever he was doing, end whatever rest he was enjoying and make his way back to the scorer’s table during Friday’s opener against Saint Francis (Pa.).

When Jackson is having one of those nights like Friday, when he’s aggressive and attacking on both ends and seeing the floor and making just about everything happen in every way, there’s simply no use for him to be anywhere else but on the floor.

Jackson erupted for a career-high 27 points and flirted with a double-double by going high, high, high for eight rebounds as No. 19 Notre Dame rolled to an 87-56 victory.

It was a step back in time for Jackson, who hasn’t had one of these types of games since he was in Mishawaka at Marian running circles around the rest of the Northern Indiana Conference. He scored off pull-ups, scored off ball screens, scored off curls. Scored.

“Keeping it simple works best for me,'' Jackson said of his offensive explosion. "I just like my teammates getting me open and finding me in good spots, then coach putting confidence in me to shoot.”

And confidence to be aggressive. There still were times when Jackson played the part of the point guard and looked to get others involved on the offensive end, where he finished with three assists. But there also were many times when Jackson had a look that said he was going to charge the rim, pull up from distance or connect from mid-range.

And then he did.

“As you can see, man, it’s his team,” Brey said. “He is in total control of stuff.”

So much so that Brey was fine Friday with Jackson calling out sets, directing entry passes and barking out out-of-bounds situations. He even called over to the bench to ask for a sub when he needed a break.

“He’s really confident, and he’s got a group around him that are easy to play with for him,” Brey said. “We’re going to need him to score.”

Playing a secondary scorer’s role last season when guys like Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant handled that heavy lifting, Jackson just felt he could go and do what he needed to do when he needed to do it Friday.

“When they have that confidence in me it just allows me to go out and play,” Jackson said of his teammates and coaches. “It feels good just shooting shots.”

Saint Francis led by as many as two early, but the Red Flash couldn’t sustain much of a push as the game unfolded because it had no answer for Jackson and all his action.

“He’s a talented kid and presents challenges,” said coach Rob Krimmel. “It was a good challenge for our kids to go up against one of the premier guards in college basketball.”

Once the Irish were able to lock in and string together defensive stop after defensive stop to bust this one wide open, it became apparent that Jackson could get any shot from any spot at any time he wanted. He made his first five shots from the floor, missing only a heave at the end of the first half that almost banked in from the other side of midcourt. He finished 10-of-14 from the floor, 4-of-6 from the foul line in 34 minutes.

Not to be outdone by Jackson was fellow captain Zach Auguste.

Challenged by Brey in preseason that there is no reason why he shouldn’t be a double-double guy every single night out – a challenge he eagerly accepted – Auguste delivered his first such stat line with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

“That’s something that I personally wanted to go out and do,” Auguste said. “It was more of a statement game.”

Auguste secured his double-double line 24 seconds into the second half with a defensive rebound.

“I had the ball and was able to get to the spots where I needed to be,” he said. “I just had that mentality to go after it and attack the offensive and defensive glass.”

Auguste’s work on the glass allowed the Irish to dominate the rebounding (+22) while finishing with 21 offensive rebounds that turned into 14 second-chance points. Notre Dame didn’t trail for the final 32:18 and led by as many as 34.

“When your two best players get started like that,” Brey said, “it’s a good start for us.”

The Irish led by as many as 14 points in a first half that saw Brey play eight combinations and go 10 deep. Foul trouble had something to do with the revolving rotation door. Starting forward Bonzie Colson picked up three fouls in the first 14:48 before fouling out. Reserve guard Matt Farrell also garnered two quick ones but stuck with it to finish with a career-high seven points — half as many as he scored all last season — in 17 minutes.

The Irish moved to 16-0 in home openers under Brey. It was consecutive home-opener win No. 17 for Notre Dame, which last lost to start a season in 1998.

Brey confirmed afterward that freshman power forward Elijah Burns will go on the five-year plan. Burns underwent microfracture ankle surgery in the spring. He had been the fifth big in a rotation that seldom slides past three.

Notre Dame unveiled its 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship banner on the south end of the arena rafters before the game.

“What a great night,” Brey said. “Certainly, it’s a special night in the history of our program to see that banner drop.”

After that, it was back to the business of doing something special this season.

Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday at home against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

ST. FRANCIS (PA.) (0-1): Nebo 0-3 0-0 0, Drinnon 2-8 3-6 7, Harmon 2-4 0-1 6, Millaud-Meunier 2-12 0-1 5, Brown 6-9 2-2 15, Umezurike 2-4 0-1 4, Meredith 1-1 0-0 3, Wolford 1-1 0-0 3, Klebon 0-0 0-0 0, Angelou 0-2 0-0 0, Wrencher 1-1 2-2 4, Thompson 0-7 9-10 9. Totals 17-52 16-23 56.

NOTRE DAME (1-0): Beachem 2-7 0-0 6, Auguste 6-12 3-5 15, Colson 1-4 1-2 3, Jackson 10-14 4-6 27, Vasturia 4-9 1-2 10, Pflueger 0-2 0-0 0, Torres 0-2 2-2 2, Ryan 3-8 0-0 9, Farrell 2-6 2-2 7, Burgett 1-3 2-2 4, Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, Geben 0-1 4-4 4. Totals 29-68 19-25 87.

Halftime_Notre Dame 38-25. 3-Point Goals_St. Francis (Pa.) 6-18 (Harmon 2-4, Brown 1-1, Wolford 1-1, Meredith 1-1, Millaud-Meunier 1-7, Drinnon 0-1, Thompson 0-1, Angelou 0-2), Notre Dame 10-29 (Jackson 3-5, Ryan 3-8, Beachem 2-6, Vasturia 1-4, Farrell 1-4, Colson 0-1, Burgett 0-1). Fouled Out_Colson, Umezurike. Rebounds_St. Francis (Pa.) 31 (Drinnon 7), Notre Dame 53 (Auguste 14). Assists_St. Francis (Pa.) 7 (Brown 4), Notre Dame 12 (Jackson 3). Total Fouls_St. Francis (Pa.) 19, Notre Dame 23. A_9,149.

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