(CBS) – Down 75-74, with the clock rapidly ticking closer to zero, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed a little luck of the Irish to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive. They got it, and it came from one of the most unlikely sources imaginable.
With 47 seconds left in the game, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey inserted freshman Rex Pflueger into the game for defensive purposes, hoping to keep the SF Austin Lumberjacks from expanding upon their one-point lead.
His plan worked and the Irish got the ball back with just 22 seconds left to play. Instead of calling his final timeout and making another substitution, he put his faith in his team to get the job done and was rewarded as Pflueger tipped in the game-winner in the middle of heavy traffic for his only two points of the game. In fact, it was his first two points scored since March 3rd.
Now, thanks to Pflueger and Brey’s split-second decision, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish live to fight another day in the Sweet 16.
In the first half, the No. 14 seed Lumberjacks proved that they wouldn’t be taken lightly and that their shocking upset of the No. 3 West Virginia Mountaineers wasn’t a fluke. Stifling defense, forced turnovers and aggressive rebounding on both ends of the floor kept the pressure on the No. 6 seeded Fighting Irish to keep pace with the upstart underdogs.
SF Austin forward Thomas Walkup continued to make a name for himself nationally in the first half by dominating on the offensive side of the ball and on defense. He had eight points and had three assists and two rebounds in the first half for the Lumberjacks. He finished the game with 21 points.
For Notre Dame, it was a familiar face leading the charge in V.J. Beachem, the hero of the Irish’s first round win over Michigan.
Beachem followed up his 7-for-7, 18-point performance from the Michigan game with 11 points in the first half on 4-for-7 shooting, including 2-4 from three-point land.
In fact, it took a deep corner three from Beachem with time expiring for Notre Dame to reclaim the lead before halftime, 42-41. Early in the second half, it looked like the moment before Beachem’s shot went through the net was the last time SF Austin would have a lead in this game.
The Fighting Irish came out swinging in the second half and took control of momentum early. Zach Auguste had a monster second half and finished the game with a double-double – 16 points and 15 rebounds.
On top of Auguste’s brilliant play, a Demetrius Jackson dunk sent his teammates into hysterics and seemingly turned the tide in favor of Notre Dame for good.
But after falling behind 62-55 with under 10 minutes to play, the Lumberjacks put their rally caps on. SF Austin used an 11-2 run to take a 66-64 lead, thanks mainly to two Demetrius Floyd three-pointers. Floyd finished the game 4-for-9 from three with 16 points.
Then it became a wild back-and-forth affair as both teams refused to yield. That is, until Floyd hit yet another clutch three to give his team a 73-70 lead with just over three minutes left to play.
But Notre Dame remained poised, got their chance with the game on the line and converted.
Now, the Fighting Irish will face the winner of No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Xavier later today in the Sweet 16 next week as March Madness rolls along for coach Brey and company.