Dec. 21, 2014
It started with a crossover, right hand bouncing the basketball to the left hand, then back to the right hand.
Demetrius Jackson, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard for the University of Notre Dame, then drove from the top of the key past Purdue’s Jon Octeus.
Jackson accelerated past another Purdue guard, Dakota Mathias, near the free-throw line.
Two steps later, Jackson blasts off and throws down a monstrous slam dunk over Purdue’s 7-foot-2 center, Isaac Haas.
Jackson’s legendary slam over a player who towers more than foot taller brought Irish nation to its feet and leveled the Boilermakers Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in the Crossroads Classic.
Jackson finished with 22 points and the No. 21 Fighting Irish slugged Purdue with its worst loss in the in-state series by a 94-63 count. Notre Dame now has a 22-20 edge in the series against Purdue.
Next up for the Irish (11-1) is a home game Monday against Northern Illinois.
Notre Dame’s bench and anybody not wearing Purdue colors exploded with a deafening roar as Jackson soared for the slam at the 14:03 mark of the second half.
Seconds later, as the echoes from Jackson’s thunder-dunk still reverberated around the Fieldhouse, Jerian Grant stole the ball and dished to Jackson, who quickly passed to Pat Connaughton for another slam.
Notre Dame’s lightning strike of a slam by Jackson and then a slam fueled by a Jackson pass triggered a 7-0 Irish run. The run then turned into an avalanche, as Notre Dame went from a 54-46 lead on Jackson’s dunk to by 32 points with 1:50 left in the game.
“I just wanted to go make a play,” Jackson said afterward. “I told our team, we need something to get us going. We had great movement within out offense, but that sparked our run. Pat (Connaughton) had another dunk right after that. We went on a run and our energy was a lot higher.”
Jackson had no fear about driving right at a 7-foot-2 player, launching and dunking over him.
Twitter exploded. Vines were posted within seconds. The backboard didn’t shatter, but Purdue’s psyche did.
“I felt Notre Dame simply stole our spirit and our guys gave in,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
Even though Jackson orbited for the dunk, he remained grounded talking about the slam that shook the Circle City.
“I saw (Haas) coming over, and I knew I was either going to finish it up high, or dish it off to a big guy,” Jackson said. “Within our offense, we get so many open looks, it’s just up to us to take the opportunity.
“It feels really cool to just be able to make a play to get our team going. That’s the most important thing. Whatever it takes, trying to finish strong at the rim, sacrifice my body by taking a charge … I want to do whatever it takes to help our team.”
Irish teammate Austin Torres, who played for Penn High School against Jackson’s Marian High School teams, marveled at Jackson’s dunk.
“That was definitely energetic,” Torres said of the dunk. “You could tell by the way the crowd reacted and the way our bench reacted. You don’t see a 6-1 guard dunk over a 7-2 center very often. If that’s in the SportsCenter Top 10, I’ll be very disappointed.”
Irish coach Mike Brey understood the impact of the play.
“I thought Demetrius really ignited us with his ball pressure, and his dunk probably was the exclamation point to say, `We’re probably going to win it today,'” Brey said.
While Jackson’s dunk was the main topic of conversation, it was everything else he did that has the Irish climbing the polls.
Jackson hit seven of 10 shots, including three of three shots from behind the arc. He dished out two assists.
Relentless defense won Jackson raves from Brey.
“There’s no question our ball pressure and getting into passing lanes is something we can do,” Brey said. “Demetrius spearheads that, and when he’s pressuring the ball, all of a sudden those entry passes are longer. Now Jerian (Grant) can jump through a passing lane, and Steve (Vasturia) and Pat, but tonight Demetrius got his hands on the entry pass. He was deflecting the entry pass and it’s demoralizing when you have to play against that. It kind of wears you out.”
As the season has progressed, Jackson’s command at point guard is emerging.
“I thought Demetrius made great choices on offense, too, when to take a shot, when to involve people,” Brey said. “What I’m seeing is when he is talking more each week, he’s really a leader for us now. He’s really got command of our system and is a strong voice for us. He’s become a better guard, his basketball decisions with the ball are that of a college guard now. That’s where he made a big jump. He talked about wanting to be better with his decision making and have less turnovers than last year.
“(Demetrius is) playing with supreme confidence, and he and Jerian are playing off each other beautifully. They both can handle it, they both can play off the ball. I knew Demetrius was really ready to play in this one just watching him yesterday, he was really excited about playing down here. All the Indiana kids always love playing in this event, and we love this event because we have won three in a row. Let’s keep playing every year.”
Connaughton said Jackson is a match-up nightmare for opponents.
“His physical build obviously (is a strength), and then his toughness and mental capacity to take on whoever steps in front of him,” Connaughton said of Jackson. “He is up here to make a statement just like our team and he is the lead guy on the defensive end as well as the offensive end.”
Jackson said his focus is on making good decisions and cutting down his turnovers. He only had two against Purdue, but that was two too many for him.
Torres sees Jackson flourishing as a floor general for the Irish.
“The biggest areas where Demetrius has improved have to be his leadership and his confidence,” Torres said. “He’s our quarterback. That’s one of the most important things that he developed, doing the right things on the court, and that’s giving him confidence, and he’s starting to play like he did in high school, when he had all that confidence.”
That confidence from Jackson is what the Irish are counting on as they continue to build toward a season to remember.
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent