March 26, 2015
CLEVELAND (AP) Momentum sagging and Wichita State surging, Mike Brey called time out and offered his Notre Dame players a reminder.
There was no screaming. No frantic scribbling of Xs-and-Os. That’s not Brey’s style. Or his team’s either.
”I said `Fellas, been here before,”’ Brey said. ”Little did I know it was going to be a lightning strike, a flat-out lightning strike.”
One that carried the Irish all the way to the brink of the Final Four.
Demetrius Jackson scored 20 points and third-seeded Notre Dame blitzed the Shockers in the second half of a surprisingly easy 81-70 victory Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years.
The Irish (32-5) shot 75 percent (18 of 24) over the final 20 minutes, overwhelming the seventh-seeded Shockers (30-5) with a barrage of 3-pointers, expert cuts to the basket and enough fancy passing to fill an And-One mixtape.
The 38-18 burst that turned a tight game into something else entirely came after Wichita State took its first and only lead on a layup by Darius Carter with 16:37 to go. Jackson drilled a 3-pointer on Notre Dame’s next trip down then added another one moments later.
After that, the Irish were gone. The lead ballooned to as many as 19 points before the Shockers settled themselves. By then, it was far too late.
”I’ve never seen a 1-point lead get out of hand so quickly,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. ”It did tonight because of their fire power.”
Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame and Jerian Grant had nine points and 11 assists as the Irish won their eighth straight.
Notre Dame will play top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky on Saturday night with a Final Four spot on the line. The Wildcats beat West Virginia 78-39.
Fred VanVleet led Wichita State with 25 points and Carter had 22 points while playing on the home court of distant cousin LeBron James but the Shockers simply couldn’t keep up with the sharp-shooting Irish.
Wichita State appeared ready to take control after surviving an early first-half barrage then Carter’s layup put them ahead. The Shockers – eyeing a rematch with the Wildcats in the regional final after Kentucky ended the Shockers’ perfect season last spring – were caught flat-footed as Notre Dame put on a show.
Once Grant decided to become a distributor after missing all five of his first-half shots, the Irish soared. Notre Dame hit eight straight shots at one point to propel the Irish to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979, when Bill Laimbeer, Orlando Woolridge and Kelly Tripucka fell to Magic Johnson and eventual national champion Michigan State.
Ron Baker had just nine points and went scoreless in the second half. Wichita State said it had the punch to keep pace with Notre Dame. The Shockers did for 25 minutes, after that the ACC Tournament champions took flight.”It’s like blood in the water, you feel it and you want to keep getting stops so you can keep running,” Connaughton said. ”It’s something you can’t get enough of.”
The Irish survived two tough opening weekend games, beating Northeastern and Butler by a combined seven points. The win over Butler came just hours after Brey lost his mother Betty to a heart attack at age 84. He spent Sunday celebrating her remarkable life – she was a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic swim team – before returning to the cocoon of his resilient team.
Notre Dame rebounded from the worst season of Brey’s 15 years in South Bend last winter – a messy 15-17 slog – with a sizzling sprint through March that included wins over Duke and North Carolina on its way to an unlikely ACC Tournament triumph down the street from Tobacco Road.
Wichita State had no such worries last weekend. The Shockers raced past Indiana then dominated in-state rival Kansas, a victory more than two decades in the making after the Jayhawks spent years building a nonconference schedule that did not include the blossoming mid-major a couple of hours away.
Baker admitted toppling Kansas was like reaching Cloud Nine but added it doesn’t sound so good when Cloud 10 is two steps away.
The Shockers didn’t even get halfway there.
Marshall isn’t exactly a fan of the tournament setup that gave the Irish an extra day of rest but stressed it was not an excuse.
”I just don’t like the pod system or whatever they call it,” Marshall said before later adding, ”I don’t like that, it’s not good, but that has nothing to do with the game. The better team won tonight.”
Wichita State: The Shockers are 4-2 all-time in the Sweet 16. … The Shockers shot 40 percent (26 of 65) and made just 3 of 18 3-point attempts. … Baker went 0 for 5 in the second half.
Notre Dame: Connaughton played in his 138th game for the Irish, a school record. … Notre Dame made 9 of 19 3-point attempts, with Jackson making 4 of 5.
Wichita State: Shockers lose starters Carter and Cotton while Baker and VanVleet weigh whether to return or go pro.
Notre Dame: Irish try to move on to first Final Four since 1978, when they lost to Duke in the national semifinals.