NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The drama over the severity of Demetrius Jackson’s leg injury was much greater than the mystery surrounding the outcome of the game.
Jackson – who came into the game pacing the Irish in scoring at 17.6 points per game – lasted just 2:16 before coming up lame. Although the Eagles (7-12, 0-6) would hang around throughout the first half, a 16-2 run to open the second half propelled Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2) to a 76-49 victory.
It was Notre Dame’s fourth straight victory, its longest winning streak since opening the season with a 5-0 mark against non-conference foes.
“I’m very proud of how we didn’t let (Jackson’s injury) be a distraction at all,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “We methodically had a very good league win. You’ve got some veteran guys and some maturity there.”
Jackson’s injury occurred at the 17:44 mark of the first half. He was assisted off the court straight into the locker room. He returned to the bench with seven-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, but was ruled out for the rest of the game with what Notre Dame called “a muscle pull” in his right hamstring.
He rejoined his team on the bench for the second half, favoring his right leg as he walked across the court.
“It’s definitely different,” said junior guard Steve Vasturia, who seamlessly slid from the two-guard spot to ball-handling/point guard duties, running the show with four of Notre Dame’s 11 assists while scoring a co-team-high 16 points, most of which came from the free-throw line (9-of-10).
“I think we’ve done a good job all year of somebody coming off the bench and picking up the way we play.”
Vasturia spearheaded Notre Dame’s resurgence from the free-throw line, where the Irish converted 25-of-27 for a sparkling 92.6 percent.
“Coach always says it’s a great weapon for us and it really is,” Vasturia added. “If you can get to the line and knock down free throws, you’re really going to help yourself.”
Brey’s method for the improved free-throw shooting in recent games? Emphasize it less.
“It’s become a huge weapon, and you know why? We don’t work on it as a team in practice,” Brey said. “I tell them to go shoot them on their own.”
It took a while for the Irish to find and maintain their groove once Jackson left the lineup. Notre Dame shot to a 14-2 lead out of the gate, but found itself leading by two with less than two minutes remaining in the first half before settling for a 34-29 halftime advantage.
A 16-2 run to start the second half quickly stretched the advantage to 19 points in less than eight minutes. Notre Dame’s largest lead of the day reached 30 points with 1:37 remaining.
The Irish limited Boston College to just 28.6 percent shooting (16-of-56) for the game, including 6-of-30 in the second half. The Eagles – who were paced by Eli Carter’s 16 points – converted just 8-of-38 two-point attempts.
“That orange ball has got to go through the orange basket,” said Boston College head coach Jim Christian of the Eagles’ persistent shooting woes.
Like Brey, Christian did not see much drop off in Notre Dame’s offensive production without Jackson. The Irish made 11-of-21 second-half shots while converting each of their 16 free throws.
Joining Vasturia in double figures were Bonzie Colson (16), V.J. Beachem (14), Rex Pflueger (11) and Zach Auguste (10), who also snuck a late double-double in with 10 rebounds.
“Stay in attack mode, keep screening for Steve and stay within ourselves,” said Colson of the key to playing with Jackson.
“There have been times when we’ve had that lineup in practice. We knew what we had to do. Just stay within ourselves and be true to ourselves.”
Pflueger continues to add to his profile every game out. After logging 41 minutes in the previous two games with defense his main role while scoring a career-high seven points at Duke, the 6-foot-6 freshman scored 11 points, converting all three of his field-goal attempts, his only three-pointer, and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. His 32 minutes also were a career high.
“I’m really excited about him,” said Brey of Pflueger. “The job he did on (Eli) Carter, especially in the second half, was fabulous. Now you see him getting comfortable with an offensive role.
“One of the things that kept him out of the lineup was shot selection, when to shoot and where your place is within the offense. He also was a little loose with the ball when he got here. He’s really improved in those areas.”
Pflueger seems to be building on his repertoire with each opportunity afforded him.
“The past games have given me more confidence in my ability on the floor, and hopefully that carries over to the next game and the next game,” Pflueger said.
Boston College has yet to score as many as 70 points in any of its 12 losses. The Eagles are in the midst of their second six-game losing streak of the season. It was the fourth time this season the Eagles failed to reach 50 points and the 11th time they’ve been south of 60.
It was Notre Dame’s second victory over the Eagles in 16 days. Both were decisive. The Irish claimed an 82-54 win at Boston College on Jan. 7.
Notre Dame’s No. 7 all-time leading scorer and rebounder -- Troy Murphy – became the 8th person in Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor and 5th men’s player, joining Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Luke Harangody and Tom Hawkins. Also in the Ring of Honor are former Irish head coach Richard “Digger” Phelps and women’s players Ruth Riley and Skylar Diggins.