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November 25, 2008

Jackson goes with the flow

MAUI, Hawaii-Let him shoot.

That's pretty much what they said about Tory Jackson his first two years at Notre Dame.

Let him shoot.

After all, the alternative is Luke Harangody pounding around inside the paint like a bull in a china shop, or allowing Kyle McAlarney to do his sniping from the outside.

So you might as well let Jackson-a career 40 percent shooter-hoist up a few more.

That backfired Monday in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational as Jackson tied a career high with 21 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field. Through three games, Jackson is shooting 53.1 percent (17-of-32).

"(Indiana) doubled off him a lot, which put him in position (to shoot)," said Irish head coach Mike Brey following Notre Dame's 88-50 victory over the Hoosiers.

"We want him taking that shot. His percentage has gone way up. Also, when they're hugging our shooters, he can get to the basket, and he did that a bunch today."

Undermanned Indiana had no answers for Jackson, whose penetration to the basket early in the second half quickly determined that Notre Dame's 44-23 halftime lead would expand, not diminish.

Most impressive this season is Jackson's improved shooting touch. The ball is coming out of his hand much softer. His release is smoother. Despite a 6-of-12 effort from the free-throw line Friday night against Loyola Marymount, Jackson has shown a much better shot after converting just 38.6 percent of his shots last season.

"It took a long time to get it back together," said Jackson of his shot, which was good enough to score 2,518 points and average 30.5 points per game at Buena Vista High School in Saginaw, Mich., his senior season.

"Coming into college, I had a smaller body. I lifted weights so much that I never got used to my body. So I worked hard this summer and got a lot of reps up. I've still got to get a lot better at it."

Jackson's mid-range game clearly has improved. He pulled up several times for jump shots against the Hoosiers, showing a better touch and a much higher degree of confidence to let it fly.

Jackson needs to be a consistent offensive presence to offset the special attention often given to Harangody and McAlarney.

"I just took those shots because they came in the flow of the offense," said Jackson of his career-high 17 attempts against Indiana.

"A lot of teams focus on Kyle and Luke, so I just got to the open spot and they fell in. I would not be taking 17 shots. It just happened."

"It was like back at Buena Vista," Brey joked.

The 17 shots were three more than Jackson had taken in any of his first 67 games in an Irish uniform.

"I'm not going to pass it up," Jackson said. "They laid off me. Some of the shots felt like I rushed a little bit. Some felt like quality shots that didn't fall.

"Overall, I thought it was a good game, but I've got to be a lot better. I had five turnovers and that's awful for me. I'm not depressed about it, but I've got to get better at those things."

Jackson also had six assists, five rebounds and three steals in 33 minutes of action.

It's going to be a bit more difficult Tuesday when Jackson matches up with A.J. Abrams, Texas' slick 5-foot-11, 161-pound senior who is averaging 18 points per game and has made 296 career three-pointers for the No. 7-ranked Longhorns.

"He's a solid player, an older guy, a senior," Jackson said. "I'm going to have my hands full. I've got to be focused. You've got to have that mindset. I can't defeat myself before we play. It's not just going to come down to me and him. It will come down to who's the more balanced team."

It's a familiar match-up for Jackson, who is used to facing the elite.

"In (the Big East), there are a lot of great point guards," Jackson said. "This is another match-up like that. It's going to be tough. This is a Big East game."

At a solid 193 pounds, Jackson has a strength advantage over Abrams.

"You want to body up on him because he's a good shooter," Jackson said. "You don't want to leave him alone. You want to get in his head a little bit and try to frustrate him and see what happens."

More often than not, good things happen the more Jackson is involved.

Go ahead, let him shoot. See what happens.



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