Demetrius Jackson finds elusive next gear for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – He had talked the previous afternoon about wishing for and wanting to find another gear to his game, a quicker one, a more attacking one, one that he knew was in him somewhere.

Notre Dame junior guard Demetrius Jackson then found it at exactly the right time.

Aggressive almost from the start of Sunday’s game against Stephen F. Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament East Region at Barclays Center, Jackson helped drive the No. 6 seed Irish to a second-straight Sweet 16 appearance in as many seasons with a game-high 18 points, three rebounds and two assists in a 76-75 victory.

“Just another step in the right direction,” Jackson said. “I want to keep it going.”

And keep attacking. When he’s as good as he was Sunday, everything else around him on both ends flows. And he’s tough to deal with. The Irish ran one set called four-low that had Jackson with the ball at the top of the key and everyone else at the baseline. Jackson’s job — drive it, get to the rim and score.

“I hope we can build on that,” said coach Mike Brey. “Sometimes he kind of evolves into that. I want him to do that earlier in the game.

“When he does it, and he’s playing downhill and he’s turning the corner, he’s hard to deal with.”

Jackson’s speed and passion and power and quickness then was on display during one second-half sequence. Able to solve the Lumberjack pressure, Jackson crossed halfcourt, kicked his dribble into another gear and weaved into the lane.

As he did, he eyed plenty of space through the paint and a road right to the rim. He exploded up and thundered down a right-handed dunk to put the Irish five with 16 minutes remaining.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Jackson said. “I’ve been in kind of a funk lately. I was able to get in the open court and just use my abilities.”

Spoiled by success

Prior to last season’s run to the Elite Eight and near-miss against Kentucky, Notre Dame had gone 12 years without getting to at least the Sweet 16.

Sophomore Bonzie Colson has experienced the Sweet 16 in each of his first two collegiate seasons.

“I can’t complain coming in as a freshman and going last year and then doing it this year,” Colson said. “March Madness. Anything is possible.”

Colson again came off the bench Sunday, but managed only eight points and two rebounds in 13 minutes. It was the fewest minutes he’s played since getting only 12 in the regular-season finale against North Carolina State, but didn’t mind it one bit, especially since the guy he considers his big brother — senior captain Zach Auguste — had another monster game. With 16 points and 15 rebounds, Auguste registered his 20th double-double for points and rebounds this season and the 24th of his career.

The most important stat for Colson was that he’d get a chance to play again later this week.

“It doesn’t really matter who’s in there as you’re doing what the coach tells you,” Colson said. “Zach played his tail off and I’m happy for him. I didn’t want this to be his last game playing with me. I couldn’t be more happy how we played.”

Good guard

After coming off the bench all year, and not playing in others, sophomore guard Matt Farrell made his second straight start Sunday. He finished with eight points, four assists, and two rebounds in a career-high 31 minutes.

“There’s no question that having Matt Farrell on the floor with Demetrius Jackson was a big help,” Brey said.

With the Irish needing an additional guard to offset the Stephen F. Austin pressure, Farrell delivered.

“Awesome experience,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence having these teammates around me and having the right attitude is something special for me. Everyone on this team is capable of doing whatever they want.”

Farrell also delivered one of the game’s biggest shots. With the game tied at 66 and the shot clock set to expire, Farrell drained a mid-range jumper in front of the Irish bench to give Notre Dame a two-point lead.

“I tried to get into my pet pull-up that was not going in in the first half,” Farrell said. “That’s a shot that I’ve been taking for a long time.

“I heard, ‘shoot it’ so I shot it.”

Barclays bits

• Notre Dame wasn’t expected to leave the New York area on its charter flight until close to 10 p.m. That meant the Irish were in the air when the Wisconsin-Xavier game went final. Notre Dame plays that winner Friday in Philadelphia with a tip time still to be determined.

• The other side of the East Region bracket features No. 1 North Carolina against No. 4 Indiana. Friday’s winners return Sunday to play for the East Region championship.

• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a friend of Brey’s during his coaching days at Delaware, visited the Irish locker room afterward. Christie’s daughter, Sarah, is a sophomore at Notre Dame and a student manager for the basketball team.

• Notre Dame held Stephen F. Austin without a field goal for the final 3:35.

• The Irish committed 13 turnovers, including nine in the second half.

• Former Irish guard and current New York Knicks rookie Jerian Grant attended Sunday's game.

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