PHILADELPHIA — Demetrius Jackson stripped the ball and scored the go-ahead layup with 14.7 seconds left and Notre Dame advanced to the brink of its first Final Four in 38 years with a 61-56 win over Wisconsin on Friday night in the East Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.
Jackson sealed the win with a pair of free throws to send the Irish (24-11) into a regional final for the second straight season.
Notre Dame lost to Kentucky a year ago. This year, the Irish will get a shot at top-seeded North Carolina or Indiana on Sunday.
Vitto Brown’s 3-pointer with 26 seconds left put the Badgers (22-13) up 56-53 and kept Wisconsin’s shot at a third straight Final Four alive.
But the Irish shook off a miserable shooting game down the stretch and have their first Final Four since 1978 in sight.
V.J. Beachem scored 19 points, Zach Auguste had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Jackson scored 16 points.
Ethan Happ led the Badgers with 14 points and 12 boards.
Both of these teams needed last-second game-winning shots in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16.
After a sluggish start, the dramatics Friday night came right on time.
Happ put the Badgers up 53-51 and the lead but Jackson brought the Irish right back with two straight layups that sent the Notre Dame crowd into a frenzy.
Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes was a non-factor, scoring 11 points on just 4 of 12 shooting.
With Hayes slumping, Wisconsin let the Irish hang around and make a run even with the kind of gory shooting numbers that would have had them blown out against a Villanova or Kansas.
Yet the Irish tied it at 34 on Jackson’s runner and Auguste had a monster block from behind on Hayes that sparked some life into a stagnant game. Hayes snapped the tie with a 3 the next time down and a snoozer suddenly felt like March Madness. Hayes had missed 20 straight 3-pointers.
Zak Showalter flew out of nowhere — the lane? the sky? — and slammed home a miss that put the Badgers up 39-38.
The Badgers needed more of the same — but were doomed by off-kilter 3-point shooting (6 of 20) and 17 turnovers.
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie sat on press row and watched Notre Dame warm up, then must have felt right at home with another miserable half of basketball inside the NBA arena.
Notre Dame and Wisconsin combined for so many misses in the first half, it was easy to think the 76ers were still in town. The Irish and Badgers combined to miss 13 straight shots over 4 minutes and nearly lulled the crowd to sleep.
The Badgers missed 8 of 10 3-point attempts. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes is still mired in a shooting slump. Adding in another slow start against Notre Dame and the All-Big Ten selection is now 6 for 32 from the field in two and half NCAA Tournament games.
Still, Wisconsin held a 23-19 lead at halftime and it was the lowest scoring first half of the season for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame didn’t advance in the tourney with those kind of woeful shooting numbers. The Irish shot 58 percent against Michigan and 57 percent vs. Stephen F. Austin. Adding to the ugliness, the teams combined for 14 turnovers.
Wisconsin: Two-time U.S. Open golf champion Andy North was at the game and rooted for the Badgers. … Wisconsin failed to become the first program since UCLA (2006-2008) to make three straight Final Fours.
Notre Dame: Jackson and Auguste shot a combined 22 of 30 in the first two tournament games, then went 3 of 16 in the first half. … New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was at the game. Christie is longtime friends with Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
Notre Dame: NCAA Tournament Regional Final on Sunday.
Wisconsin: Season over.