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No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 6 Notre Dame got off to a brutally slow start in the East regional semifinal in Philadelphia. At the end of the first half, the Badgers were up 23–19 on the Fighting Irish, and the teams were shooting 34.6% and 24.1% from the field, respectively. The Badgers’ lead had ballooned to nine points in the first period and was as large as eight in the second half. The Irish, meanwhile, didn’t lead in the second half until a Demetrius Jackson steal and layup put his team up 57–56 with 13 seconds left in the game. After a missed layup by Bronson Koenig on the Badgers’ next possession, Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem hit a pair of free throws to bring the Irish’s lead to three points. Wisconsin got one more shot to tie or win the game, but Jackson snagged another steal, this time off Koenig, and hit his free throws to give the Irish a five-point lead. Beachem (19 points) and Jackson (18) led the Irish, who ended the game on an 8–0 run and prevailed, 61–56.
Why it matters
Notre Dame’s hockey team announced two days ago that it would join the Big Ten conference, and maybe the Fighting Irish basketball team should follow. On the line in this game was a berth in the Elite Eight, yet it more closely resembled a February conference matchup between Rutgers and Northwestern. The game served mostly as a setup for the main course later in the same arena, No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana. Notre Dame emerged as the winner, but its performance won’t strike fear into the Tar Heels or Hoosiers.
For the Irish, it’s a second consecutive miracle March win. Against Stephen F. Austin in Brooklyn in the Round of 32, reserve guard Rex Pflueger scored on a last-second putback to advance the Irish to the second weekend. And now Jackson, the team’s leader and leading scorer, is the reason why Notre Dame is 40 minutes away from the Final Four.
The Irish advance to face the winner of No. 1 UNC and No. 5 Indiana in the East regional final in Philadelphia on Sunday. The winner of Sunday’s game will continue on to Houston for the Final Four.