O'Malley's Key Three

Three pertinent thoughts while coming to the realization that Notre Dame will play a fourth NCAA Tournament game in the same season for just the second time in school history.

For the first 23 minutes and 18 seconds they led, and for the bulk of that time frame, Notre Dame appeared the better team.

Then Wichita State forward Darius Carter knocked down a short jump shot and what was once a 13-point first-half Irish advantage presented instead as a one-point deficit with 16:41 to play.

And then. They. Went. OFF.

Demetrius Jackson drilled a corner three-pointer to reclaim the lead. 19 seconds later he hit another, this time pulling up from 22-feet away in transition. A feed to Bonzie Colson followed, so too did a Steve Vasturia corner triple on four-touch assist (Jackson, Colson, Pat Connaughton, Vasturia) to turn Notre Dame's first deficit, 38-37, back to a six-point lead, 48-42 with 14:47 remaining.

In one minute and 56 seconds, the Irish reclaimed control thanks to Jackson's stroke and will. In the next eight minutes they extended to a 13-point edge and eventually a whopping 19-point margin in a stunning 81-70 victory to advance to the Elite 8, the program's first trip since Magic Johnson's sophomore season in East Lansing.

"Tremendous, tremendous team," said Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall post-game. "The best offensive team we've seen all year, hands down, and they played a heck of a game."

It was a run reminiscent of what North Carolina experienced at the hands of the explosive Irish less than two weeks prior in the ACC Tournament Championship, that a 26-3 detonation in seven minutes time.

As Irish head coach Mike Brey offered to sideline reporter Lewis Johnson post-game: "Hey Lewis, you asked me about my offense in the first half. What did you think about the second half?"

The Irish connected on 18-of-24 field goal attempts in the second half including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc but more important, held a 22-5 second-half edge over the Shockers in the paint.

Nobody explodes like Notre Dame.

Held to nine points Thursday evening, Irish fifth-year senior Jerian Grant nevertheless accounted for a whopping 38 total points as his 11 assists resulted in 27 for Irish teammates and set a program record in NCAA Tournament play. (70 previous games.)

Grant has long-been identified on these pages as the nation's best passer, and with all due respect to the magical David Rivers, his court vision and pinpoint passing thereafter is likely the best in program history.

Grant's 85 assists in his last 11 games (Notre Dame is 10-1 in that span) have resulted in 189 points, with Grant adding another 180 points of his own.

Four times his assists have led to at least 26 points for teammates; five times he's tallied between 16 and 24 points of his own in that span.

The only better creators of offense with the basketball play for pay.

Either Connaughton or Jackson was the MVP with the other a close "1B" in that regard, and Grant was the second-half difference-maker, but when Notre Dame needed a boost, it was Bonzie Colson off the bench that helped the staggered Irish reclaim control.

Colson's 14 minutes included six points, two boards, a block, a tied ball, and quality defense on surging Shockers forward Darius Carter. Carter had hit the Irish inside for 13 points when he provided Wichita State with its first lead of the contest, 38-37. Thanks to Colson's position defense and extended reach, Carter managed just two free throws over the next 14:08 as the Irish regained the lead and pulled away.

It was far from the evening's top performance on either end of the floor (Steve Vasturia held Wichita State leading scorer Ron Baker to 9 points on 2 of 10 shooting), but Colson's best outing since he exploded all over Duke in the ACC Tournament semi-finals proved crucial to the final cause.

Colson was part of a dedicated team effort defensively that allowed the Irish to control the tempo and tenor of the contest before their all-world offense delivered the death blow.

"We did a great job defending them. We did a great job not letting them get going from the 3-point line," said Brey. "Three for 18. That's been the story of our six wins in the postseason. We've really defended the arc well."

Said Connaughton of the Irish defense leading to offense, "It is something that we pride ourselves on, and it's something that we're in that moment, we feel like we can run with anybody."

They'll get a chance to prove that Saturday night.

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