Tory Jackson's determination and will in the face of adversity won a basketball game Notre Dame had to have this afternoon.
"I know I can get to the rack, but I haven't been going (to the basket) lately. I've been kind of settling a little bit," Jackson admitted.
"I felt like now it was time."
Irish head coach Mike Brey took obvious pride in his team's performance down the stretch.
"We had to show some toughness to get out of there with a win," Brey began. "Tory Jackson was flat-out fabulous; just refused to let us lose the game, but I'm not surprised because he's been kind of running our whole locker room since Christmas."
Bulls head coach Stan Heath complimented the senior's efforts as well.
"We can't seem to get the Irish's number," Heath began. "I thought Jackson was a big key down the stretch. We just couldn't seem to keep him out of the lane. He made play after play. But this is a hard place to win. Not many people do it; I'm proud of our team but we came up a little short."
With the win, Notre Dame is now 29-4 in 33 Big East home games played in the Jackson/Luke Harangody era.
Easy Come, Easy GoThe Irish jumped to a 16-2 advantage in the game's first six minutes and held what appeared to be a commanding 25-10 edge at the 8:28 mark of the first half. But the defensive-minded Bulls continued to chip away, trimming the lead to just five at 25-20 before taking their first lead, 32-31 with just over a minute remaining before intermission.
South Florida took its largest lead, 50-44 on a Chris Howard three-point shot with 10:26 remaining. The jumper forced a timeout from Brey and a dual tongue-lashing from the coach and his coach on the floor.
"It was just a thing where there was 11 minutes left," Jackson offered. "So there was no need to panic. You don't want to go out there and start jacking up shots. We had a couple of bad possessions (previously) so we just said ‘calm down.'"
"We can't come back and win it in one or two plays, be methodical and take your time. By the next timeout we were down just one, so we did a good job."
Brey's two cents left a similar mark on the troops.
"I didn't want us hanging our heads…at times we had the body language of , ‘We should be up 10.' Well, we're not (up 10). Deal with it," Brey explained of his efforts to keep the veteran Irish focused after blowing another big lead.
The Bulls were credited post-game with slowing down the contest and challenging the Irish with tough man-to-man defense after struggling to keep up at the outset.
"They really defend well," Brey observed of a Bulls team that held the Irish to just eight second-half field goals. "We've always had a tough time scoring against them."
Finding a WayAugmenting Jackson's final eight minutes was the effort and improvement of power forward Tyrone Nash. The junior knocked down 3 of 4 free throws in a three-minute span (approaching the charity stripe with the game tied for both pairs) and later collected the game's decisive defensive rebound, securing the ball on the floor and maintaining possession for the Irish clinging to a one-point lead with six seconds remaining.
Nash's save was necessary when Irish senior Luke Harangody committed a stunning, unnecessary foul on Bulls center Jarrid Famous on the previous play. Famous, who finished with 18 points on 8-9 shooting flushed home a feed from guard Dominique Jones with the Bulls trailing by 3 with just eight seconds remaining. Harangody weakly shoved Famous with two hands as the active junior finished his dunk, giving the Bulls one free throw and a chance to tie.
When Famous' free throw bounced left, Nash chased it down in front of the Bulls bench, securing alternate possession for the Irish.
The Irish in-bounded from the same spot and Harangody clutched the pass to ensure a trip to the foul line. The senior made up for his previous mental error, calmly draining both foul shots for a 65-62 lead.
Dominique Jones' running one-handed three-pointer from the top ricocheted off the back rim and the Irish hung on for a season-sweep of the upstart Bulls.
"It was a matter of getting time off that clock," Jackson explained of his four-second defense on Jones. "We rushed him into a ‘floater 3' so it was one of those things where we just had to be smart and not foul."
The Irish held the likely 1st Team All Big East selection to a 3-17 shooting effort and 10 points. Jones had scored a total of 140 points on 76 shot attempts (plus free throws) in his previous four outings.
"We trusted each other," Jackson offered of he and Hansbrough's defensive effort on the Bulls star scorer. "Ben started on him and he had help coming from the rest of the four guys. When I started guarding him (midway through the second half) I had help from the rest of the guys.
"It was one of those things where we trusted each other to be there and have each other's backs when (Jones) gets passed the first line of defense. You throw a lot of bodies at him and he gets worn down."
In addition to his 10 points, Jones finished with eight assists and no turnovers. Hansbrough held him scoreless for the game's first 11:56.
South Florida's Chris Howard led all scorers with 23 points (9-15 shooting). The senior point guard also played a key role defensively, limiting Irish sharp shooter Tim Abromaitis to eight points and just six shot attempts.
Harangody led the Irish with 19 points and 15 rebounds (13 defensive) but struggled from the field, hitting just 5 of 17 shots despite working for decent position on the low block for most of the contest.
Hansbrough added 13 points for the Irish though he was held scoreless by Jones in the second half.
Notre Dame (6-5) will travel to New Jersey for a Thursday game at Seton Hall (3-7).