Tory Jackson, ND's Current Hoops Star

SOUTH BEND - Tory Jackson's demeanor and personality is that of a star, and a national television audience saw it first hand on Saturday afternoon.

From leading Notre Dame back into a game that could've turned ugly real quick, to his circus-style runner off the glass at the end of the game, Jackson showed his star potential and flair against Marquette, that will keep his profile in the national spotlight in the years to come.

Jackson's genuine smile put a good stamp on an ugly competitive Big East game that had a lot of pushing and shoving, arguing and three technical fouls. Those pearly whites will look good on the cover of magazines in the future, and were on display often during No. 23 Notre Dame's 85-73 victory over No. 16 Marquette. The 5-foot-10 freshman point guard played poised in showing up Marquette's star and one of the nation's best floor generals, Dominic James.

"There were a lot of good guards on that floor today, and there weren't any better than Jackson," Irish coach Mike Brey stated, after Jackson went for a career high 21 points on top of seven rebounds and seven assists. "He continues to just get better and more confident. It's truly his team now, and he is a very confident young man."

"I really had to a great job against they're guards," Jackson said. "They have great guards, they have a great team, period. I felt like I had to take this one personal just because, I didn't want to get embarrassed, especially on my home floor."

That certainly didn't happen, but the Irish managed to embarrass the opposition on plenty occasions at the Joyce Center, racking up a perfect 18-0 record at home this season.

While Jackson's classmate Luke Harangody played a big part in the Irish's comeback, it was Jackson's steady play in leading the offense that put Notre Dame in position to run away with the Senior Day contest. Harangody scored 10 points in a two-minute stretch, cutting the deficit to 25-19. That was followed up by Jackson making play after play including a coast-to-coast layup that tied the game at 36-36. A beautiful finger roll after recognizing no Marquette defender was going to pick up the ball in transition.

Jackson canned a jumper to make the score 40-36, then hit Harangody at the end of the half for another jumper to give the Irish a six-point halftime advantage.

"I felt like me and the other freshman, and the young guys had to pick it up just cause the seniors were so emotional, it was the last game they'll play in here," Jackson said. "We wanted to send them out with a bang. This was a big gift from us to them."

Jackson also had a bang for teammates Joe Harden and Kieran Piller in the form of a slap in the face while walking towards the locker room at the half. Caught up in the moment of the final two sequences, Jackson was raising his arms to the amped up student section for more noise when he caught both guys across the grill.

"I really didn't feel it until I came in and they told me man you smacked me hard," Jackson said. "We laughed about it and we picked it up from there. So when we came back out for the start of the second half, they gave us a couple punches but we punched right back."

And punched, and punched.

Notre Dame (22-6, 10-5) struggled early to get their typical open perimeter shots against Marquette's (22-8, 9-6) defense. Brey tweaked things, told Jackson to start taking the ball to the basket and see what happens. What went down was the Irish's lead growing into double digits for most of the second half, after Jackson broke down the defense leading to easy buckets.

Like the Irish lead, Jackson's celebrity continued to grow. From just another student in the crowd at the start of the season, to a valuable reserve player, to now the starting point guard and one of the nation's most promising freshmen, Jackson has noticed that people are taking notice of him.

"When I first got here nobody knew me, but now it's a lot of people that know me. I just shake it off and stay humble," he said.

Like their rookie point guard, the Irish basketball team will likely stay humble despite the recent success not seen around the program in four years. If Notre Dame can handle horrid Rutgers next Saturday in capping the regular season, the Irish will have a bye in the Big East tournament, setting themselves up well for a great NCAA tournament seed and a potential run through March.

The Big East tournament and the dance will really give Jackson a chance to shine. With the rest of the Irish's games on ESPN and then CBS, tune in for Jackson's smile and ever growing celebrity. This kid is a star.


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