Notre Dame, the No. 6 seed in the East Regional, escaped against No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin on Sunday thanks to a Rex Pflueger tip-in with 1.5 seconds remaining that gave the Fighting Irish a 76–75 win. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson missed a baseline runner and senior forward Zach Auguste couldn’t put it back in but Pflueger, a freshman backup, tipped it in for his only points of the game. Out of timeouts, the Lumberjacks had to settle for a half court heave that wasn’t close. It appeared as though Stephen F. Austin would push the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games when it turned a 62–55 deficit into a 75–70 lead with 2:02 remaining on a pair of free throws by bearded star forward Thomas Walkup, who finished with 21 points. But Jackson made a layup and two free throws while Walkup missed a pair of jumpers, leaving the Irish down one and with possession with the clock running out. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey elected not to call timeout, a decision that paid off when Pflueger tipped home the game-winner.
Why it matters
The Lumberjacks were bidding to become just the third No. 14 seed to reach the Sweet 16, and they would have pulled it off if the Fighting Irish hadn’t shot almost 57%. That’s exactly the kind of offensive efficiency that helped Notre Dame reach the Elite Eight a year ago and got it back to the Sweet 16 this season, the first time the school has reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in consecutive years since it went six straight years from 1974 to ’79. The 6'10" Auguste was especially brilliant on Sunday, making 8 of 9 shots—his only miss coming in the final, frantic seconds—and scoring 16 points to go with 15 rebounds. Notre Dame is the fifth ACC team to reach the regional semifinals, tying an NCAA tournament record for one conference. The regular season and tournament champions of that league, North Carolina, is on the opposite side of the East Regional bracket and will join the Irish in Philadelphia.
The Fighting Irish will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Xavier and No. 7 Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia next Friday.