BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Rex Pflueger didn’t score a basket the first 39 minutes, 58.5 seconds.
One basket was good enough.
Pflueger’s tip-in on a Zach Auguste miss with 1.5 seconds remaining lifted No. 6 seed Notre Dame to a 76-75 victory over Sunday afternoon over Stephen F. Austin.
Notre Dame (22-11) advances to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row against the winner of Sunday night’s game between No. 7 seed Wisconsin (21-12) vs. No. 2 seed Xavier (28-5) in St. Louis. Xavier has been installed as a 4 ½-point favorite over the Badgers.
Notre Dame, winners of eight of their last 12 games, open Sweet 16 play Friday, March 25 in Wells Fargo Arena.
Stephen F. Austin’s outstanding season comes to a close with a 27-6 record. The loss to Notre Dame is its first since Dec. 29 when the Lumberjacks fell to UAB prior to the start of their Southland Conference schedule. The loss ends SFA’s winning streak at 21 games.
Trailing by five points with under two minutes remaining, Demetrius Jackson scored to make it a 75-72 deficit. Two Jackson free throws with 46.5 seconds remaining pulled the Irish within one.
Auguste rebounded a Thomas Walkup miss and the Irish had the final possession. A Jackson miss was rebounded by Auguste. Pflueger, amidst a pile of bodies, tipped in Auguste’s errant shot.
Notre Dame was led in scoring by Jackson with 18 points. Auguste scored 16 points with 15 rebounds. V.J. Beachem tossed in 15 points
Walkup paced the Lumberjacks in scoring with 21 points, followed by Demetrious Floyd with 16 and T.J. Holyfield with 15.
Notre Dame shot 56.9 percent from the field, including 58.3 percent in the second half. The Irish limited SFA to 38.7 percent shooting in the second half.
SFA won the battle of the offensive boards, 14-11, and converted all nine of its free throws.
The Irish took their largest lead of the game at the 9:13 mark on a pull-up jumper by Beachem. But the Lumberjacks immediately responded, and the Irish didn’t reclaim the lead until Pflueger’s heroics.
Notre Dame took a 42-41 lead into the locker room at halftime in a scintillating 20 minutes of basketball. A 9-0 run gave SFA a 20-16 lead midway through the first half. Notre Dame’s 10-0 run gave the Irish a 37-32 advantage with 2:20 left.
The Lumberjacks answered that with a quick 7-0 run, but Beachem’s three-pointer at the buzzer gave the one-point halftime advantage to the No. 6 seed.
By defeating Stephen F. Austin, it marks the first time in Notre Dame basketball history that the Irish have won five times in a span of six NCAA tournament games.
The five NCAA tournament victories in back-to-back seasons is a Notre Dame first since the 1977-78 and 1978-79 teams went to the Final Four and Elite Eight respectively.
Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood’s season ends with 89 victories in his first three years in Nacogdoches, Texas, tying the mark of wins in the first three years as a Division I head coach set by Brad Stevens at Butler.