March 25, 2004
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Despite struggling through much of the game, Oregon gave Luke Jackson the ball with the game on the line. He didn’t let the Ducks down.
Jackson scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 12:12, including Oregon’s final six points, leading the Ducks to a 65-61 victory Thursday over Notre Dame in the NIT quarterfinals.
“He turned to me with about six minutes to go in the game and said, ‘Give me the ball.’ When he says that, we put the ball in his hands because he is a great player,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said.
Jackson missed his first three shots, a pair of free throws and turned the ball over four times in the opening 8:15. He had jammed the thumb on his right hand – his non-shooting hand – late in Tuesday night’s win over George Mason. He said the injury, along with the tape on his hand, affected his shooting.
“I don’t want that to be an excuse, but I was having a hard time catching the ball,” he said. “I’m glad I played well at the end. It makes up for the sloppiness in the first half.”
The Ducks play Michigan (21-11) in the semifinals Tuesday night in New York. This is Oregon’s third time in the NIT semifinals. The Ducks have never made it to the championship game, and their best finish was third place in 1975.
The Irish (19-13) failed in their attempt to post their fifth-straight 20-win season.
The Ducks went ahead 58-49 when Jackson hit a 3-pointer midway through the second half. The Irish closed to 58-54 on a 3-pointer by Chris Thomas, who also struggled early.
Thomas then went on an end-to-end layup, but was called for a charge on Aaron Brooks, a call the crowd of 8,011 booed for more than a minute. The booing changed to a standing ovation briefly when Thomas hit a 3-pointer and a foul was called. But Thomas missed the free throw that would have tied the score at 58 and the crowd resumed booing.
After Adam Zahn made a free throw for the Ducks, Thomas made a 15-foot jumper to tie the score at 59. That’s when Jackson took over. He made a pair of free throws with 2:06 left to put the Ducks ahead, then hit a 15-foot baseline jumper to put the Ducks ahead 63-59. Chris Quinn banked in a shot to cut the lead to 63-61.
After a missed shot by Jackson, the Irish had a chance to tie it. Torrian Jones, who defended Jackson most of the game, rebounded the ball, but threw a bad pass to Thomas that bounced out of bounds.
“Chris thought that he was being held and that he couldn’t get the pass,” Jones said. “It was just my carelessness with the ball.”
Jackson was fouled and made just one free throw, but Jay Anderson rebounded and passed to Jackson, who was fouled again and hit one free throw with 8 seconds left to make it 65-61.
“They made big shots when they had to. Jackson certainly did,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Andre Joseph led the Ducks with 16 points, while Ian Crosswhite added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Thomas finished with 18 points on 7-of-25 shooting – a career-high for shot attempts – and Quinn finished with 17 points. The Irish shot 38 percent.
“We came back, but then we kind of folded there at the end,” Thomas said. “It is unfortunate, but we had our chances.”