O'Malley's Key Three

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Notre Dame exorcized one month -- and 20 seasons -- of demons in 74-64 semi-final victory over ACC heavyweight Duke Friday night.

On an evening in which Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey had myriad playmakers come through for his program, there was one undeniable constant.

Sophomore Demetrius Jackson.

"We got another weapon there, there’s no question," said Brey of his team's reliance on Jackson late. "We were just kind of ball-screening for him the last five, six minutes and he was making every right decision. He gets in there, he gets banged, he gets fouled and then again, I thought he defended really well, I thought he guarded. He wants this for his team, he’s such a team guy and it’s neat to see his growth."

Jackson defended one of the nation's best point guards and creators in Duke freshman Tyus Jones. Final totals for the precocious penetrator: 10 points on just 4 of 13 shooting with four turnovers.

"He really wanted that challenge," said Brey of Jackson's 40-minute effort vs. Jones. "What he’s done in the last week, he’s become almost like a third captain. He really is. His voice is really powerful. He’s able to challenge Jerian (Grant) and Pat (Connaughton). He has no problem getting on their (butts) and they listen.

"His drives early just get us in such an attack frame of mind."

Jackson finished with 15 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals, hitting 6 of 11 field goal attempts.

"He's in attack mode," said Grant of his backcourt mate. "He kind of took this game personally. Me too. We didn't play well at all at Duke. We heard them talking a lot about how they're the best backcourt in the ACC. We came together and took that as motivation.

"I think we proved tonight who the best was."

The pair combined for 28 points, 10 boards, and 8 assists while limiting Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones to a combined 6 of 25 shooting effort.

"We knew we could get to basket on these guys. A lot of times they like to play zone because they know they can't keep their man in front of them," Grant added.

A lead that was once 17 was whittled to four.

Then a lead that never seemed insurmountable considering the foe became just that because Notre Dame's senior captain came through in the clutch.

Pat Connaughton's two-dribble dagger jump shot from the free throw line with 1:15 remaining was the knockout punch after nearly 39 minutes of body blows the captain and his Irish mates landed on No. 2 Duke.

"We wanted to drive the ball, we wanted to attack," said Connaughton of the team's mindset from the opening tip. "Last night in the second half, we settled for a few jump shots, myself included. Tonight we felt we had the ability to drive the ball."

One night later, in a game that featured 38 Irish points in the paint (and 42 for the Blue Devils), it was a Connaughton jump shot that sealed the deal.

"I knew my job was to be ready to shoot when he gave it to me," said Connaughton of Grant. "I had to make a play for him, for all he's been through, having to watch this tournament last year, we're out here making plays for each other and that was one I made for him."

Asked if the 16-footer that extended Notre Dame's lead from four to six was the biggest shot he'd hit in his Irish career, Connaughton offered, "So far, but tomorrow night hasn't happened yet."

When does a public flogging pay dividends for the humiliated party?

When those among the unceremoniously whipped get a chance to turn the tables on their tormentors shortly thereafter.

"We got flat-out embarrassed," said Grant of a 90-60 loss to Duke in Durham on February 4. "There's no other way to put it. We lost by 30 points on national television. That wasn't going to happen again."

It didn't in large part because Grant was only one among Notre Dame's regulars with a short memory.

"We had to go in aggressively and with a focused mentality," said junior center Zach Auguste. "I felt I was disrespected last time we went down there (Cameron Indoor Stadium), they kicked our ass, man, but I just wanted to give them everything I had."

Friday night's MVP felt similarly.

"They kicked our butts, and you know what, they played better than us," said Jackson of the February flogging. "I just wanted to go out and show that we're a better team than that, but I wanted to win the game for these guys and the seniors."

One of those seniors earned his first spot in a conference championship game after a pair of near misses during his freshman and sophomore seasons in the old Big East.

"You heard all over TV and all over social media, when people offered who they thought would win this tournament, Notre Dame wasn't mentioned once," said Connaughton. "Except by guys in this locker room and some Notre Dame fans. We wanted to come out and show the world we're here and we changed the Notre Dame basketball program."

A final step to that end awaits.

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