Captains show the way for No. 25 Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Headed up the runway toward the Notre Dame men’s basketball locker room late Sunday afternoon, guard Demetrius Jackson was stopped by a well-wisher who pleaded for a picture after insisting he hadn’t seen him in four years.

A lot of Jackson’s game – doing a little of this and a little of that while controlling basically everything – remains pretty much the same. Special.

Back in the starting lineup for the first time in eight days after allowing a moderate pull of his right hamstring to heal, Jackson picked up where he left off. And then some.

Flirting again with the school’s second-ever triple double, Jackson went for 14 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals as No. 25 Notre Dame bounced back yet again from Atlantic Coast Conference disappointment with an 85-62 victory over Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion.

“I just wanted to get back out there with my teammates,” Jackson said. “I felt really good.”

The Irish, who have yet to lose two straight, never trailed and led by as many as 24 points in moving to 15-6, 6-3 halfway through their league schedule.

“It sure is nice having the best guard in the country back,” coach Mike Brey said. “God, I’m a way better coach when that guy’s around.”

After suffering the injury in the opening minutes of the Boston College game Jan. 23, Jackson sat out Thursday’s loss at Syracuse. He moved well late last week, and in a workout the day of that game, but playing against the Orange never was an option. Jackson remained a bit cautious when he practiced Saturday for the first time. Once he knew that the leg would hold up, and there also has not been any flare up since the injury, Jackson knew he’d be good to go in a game the Irish absolutely had to have based on what’s coming over the final full month of the regular season.

“It was great to have him,” said senior captain Zach Auguste. “He quarterbacks us.”

Jackson showed no signs of any hesitation over the hamstring. He soared high in the early minutes for a defensive rebound. He constantly pushed the pace up the floor. He often weaved through traffic around the lane. He also capped the first half with a pretty dribble-drive, quick stop, spin and fade jumper that dropped in at the horn.

“I felt really confident in my movements,” he said. “When I stretch, it stretches well. I want to continue to do the things I’m doing. Hopefully it will be like it’s never there.”

And for him, it really was. Jackson played 34 minutes with no immediate or lingering effects of having not cut it loose in a game for eight days.

“I wasn’t thinking about it,” he said. “When you’re not focused on something, it’s almost like it’s non-existent. I feel it now a little bit playing a long game, but I feel good.”

While Jackson jumping back into the starting lineup was expected, almost nobody saw the same coming from senior captain A.J. Burgett. Having practiced as hard and as well and as consistent as anybody the last month, Burgett made the most of his first start since the end of his sophomore season.

Burgett busted out for a career-high 14 points in a season-high 24 minutes. He had zero points in eight minutes combined in four ACC games this season. Burgett knew he was going to factor somewhere into Sunday’s rotation as a reward for his consistent practice habits and attitude.

He then received a text Saturday night from Brey.

Call him, it said.

Burgett did and then listened as Brey indicated that he would start the next day.

“At first he said it, I was like, ‘Huh?’” Burgett said. “I was like, “All right, whatever you need, I’ll do it.’

“Just came in and played.”

Burgett wasn’t satisfied with just starting. He knew he had to make a difference, and didn’t wait long to be a factor. He was cool. He was confident. He was relaxed and let it all flow.

Burgett grabbed two defensive rebounds and hit a corner 3 in the first 1:23. He followed with another 3 from the top of the key for six points the first seven-plus minutes. He continued to rebound. He drew a charge. He blocked a shot. He responded to the promotion with a solid day’s play.

Another text late Saturday, this one from Jackson, got Burgett to thinking that he had no choice but to deliver.

“He said, ‘Hey, Burg, I’ve been really proud of you in practice. I just want you to keep doing your thing,’” Burgett said. “Him just giving me that confidence every day and having my back has been great.”

All four Irish captains also started for the first time this season. All five starters delivered double figures for points, led by Auguste’s game-high 21. He also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds for the 12th double of his final season and 17th of his career.

Auguste and the Irish know well how to bounce back, and bounce back well. Coming off Thursday’s loss at Syracuse, everyone needed to be a little better. And Auguste and the Irish were.

“It’s just that edge we get back,” he said. “We got slapped in the face, we want to get another win. As sad as that is to happen, we use that to our advantage.”

Injury forced Brey to juggle his starting lineup for the fourth time this season. Freshman Rex Pflueger, who started in Jackson’s spot at Syracuse, went down in Friday’s practice with a sprained ankle. He spent more time on the sideline than the practice floor heading into Sunday. Fellow freshman Matt Ryan started four games in January, but has struggled to find his rotation role and his shot. He also has been bothered by a hip flexor.

Brey preferred to keep sophomore Bonzie Colson coming off the bench as the energy guy, so he did what a lot of league teams have done this season. He went the old-guy way with three juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.

“Kind of like that math right now,” Brey said. “We’re really in it now. Let’s be old. It was great to see it work.”

Prior to a Cornelius Hudson jumper with 2:56 remaining before intermission, nobody else in black and gold had scored besides freshman Bryant Crawford (17 points) or senior Devin Thomas (6). Crawford scored 20 points to lead the Demon Deacons (10-11; 1-8), who lost their 20th straight league road game.

“We put up some resistance,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning. “But overall, as a group, we didn’t have it.”

Notre Dame did.

WAKE FOREST (10-11): Codi Miller-McIntyre 1-4 0-2 2, Devin Thomas 6-11 7-10 19, Mitchell Wilbekin 0-2 0-0 0, Bryant Crawford 7-15 2-2 20, Dinos Mitoglou 3-5 0-0 6, Doral Moore 2-5 0-0 4, Greg McClinton 0-0 2-2 2, John Collins 2-4 0-1 4, Rondale Watson 1-1 0-0 2, Cornelius Hudson 1-4 0-0 2, Stephen Prendergast 0-1 0-0 0, Gilbert McGregor 0-0 1-2 1, Trent VanHorn 0-0 0-0 0, Troy Rike 0-0 0-0 0, Grant O'Brien 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 12-19 62.

NOTRE DAME (15-6): V.J. Beachem 6-10 0-0 15, Demetrius Jackson 5-13 3-4 14, A.J. Burgett 5-7 0-1 14, Zach Auguste 7-10 7-7 21, Steve Vasturia 4-9 1-1 10, Rex Pflueger 2-3 1-1 5, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Farrell 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Gregory 0-1 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Bonzie Colson 1-3 2-4 4. Totals 31-60 14-18 85.

Halftime: Notre Dame 46-29. 3-Point Goals: Wake Forest 4-16 (Crawford 4-9, Miller-McIntyre 0-1, Hudson 0-2, Wilbekin 0-2, Mitoglou 0-2), Notre Dame 9-26 (Burgett 4-6, Beachem 3-6, Vasturia 1-5, Jackson 1-6, Ryan 0-1, Gregory 0-1, Pflueger 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Wake Forest 28 (Thomas 8), Notre Dame 36 (Auguste 12). Assists: Wake Forest 13 (Thomas 5), Notre Dame 15 (Jackson 8). Total Fouls: Wake Forest 15, Notre Dame 16. A: 9,149.

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Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson looks for room to drive past Wake Forest power forward Devin Thomas during Sunday's game at Purcell pavilion.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN