PHILADELPHIA – The fight in the Fighting Irish just wouldn’t quit.
Trailing throughout most of the game, including a 56-53 deficit with 26 seconds remaining, Notre Dame scored the final eight points to defeat Wisconsin, 61-56.
Notre Dame (24-11) advances to the Elite 8 and the championship of the East Regional Sunday night against the winner of No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 5 seed – the late game at Wells Fargo Arena.
Demetrius Jackson’s driving layup, his steal and score off the press, and a pair of free throws by each by V.J. Beachem and Jackson completed the last-minute whitewashing down the stretch.
A 12-3 ran, capped at the 8:50 mark on a pair of Demetrius Jackson free throws, gave Notre Dame its first lead since the first three minutes of the game.
The Irish would take the lead two more times, but seemed doomed when Vitto Brown’s three-pointer with 26 seconds remaining put the Badgers (22-13) on top, 56-53.
The Badgers wouldn’t score again. Bronson Koenig’s driving layup with a chance to take the lead with under 10 seconds remaining was altered. Beachem grabbed the rebound, hit both free throws, and then gave way to Jackson, who did the same.
Beachem led all scorers with 19 points, followed by Jackson’s 16 and Auguste’s 13 to go along with 12 rebounds. Ethan Happ, who fouled out late, led all Badger scorers with 14 points. Zak Showalter and Ethan Hayes each scored 11. Happ grabbed 12 rebounds.
Notre Dame’ shot 40 percent for the game, but 57.7 percent in the second half.
The first half resembled the slugfest that many anticipated. Notre Dame missed 19 of its first 24 shots, allowing Wisconsin – which converted just 9-of-26 in the first half (34.6 percent) – to build a 22-13 lead at the 5:03 mark.
The Irish went on a much-needed 6-0 spurt before finally settling for a 23-19 halftime deficit, which was a moral victory for a Notre Dame team that shot just 24.1 percent over the first 20 minutes.
Steve Vasturia missed all four of his first-half shots while Jackson missed six of seven, Auguste missed four of five, and Beachem and Bonzie Colson each missed three of four.
Both teams turned it over seven times in the first half and combined for 4-of-20 from three-point range.