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December 7, 2008

Jackson shoulders the blame

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INDIANAPOLIS—Tory Jackson wasn’t the guy who missed all six of his three-point attempts. Tory Jackson wasn’t the guy who went dormant down the stretch. Tory Jackson wasn’t the guy who never found his rhythm.

Yet it was Jackson who hoisted the weight of a 67-62 loss to Ohio State on his shoulders Saturday and vowed to learn from the experience.

“That was the worst game I’ve played,” Jackson said. “My team tried to pick me up, but I was just so down early because of the silly mistakes that I made. Once I got over them, we started to make a run, but it was kind of late.

“I’ve got to grow up and look past the silly mistakes. Today was one of those days I couldn’t get over it. It was silly mistakes that frustrated me.”

As the man who runs the show for the Irish, Jackson carries an inordinate weight. His three turnovers in the first half off the Ohio State press helped turn a 15-10 lead into a 17-15 deficit. The Buckeyes would eventually take a two-point lead with 1:33 left in the first half for a lead they would not relinquish.

Yet it was Jackson’s three-pointer at the 2:48 mark that first cut the deficit to 61-59, and then another with 26.2 seconds remaining that made it a one-point game. Kyle McAlarney’s three-point attempt with 10 seconds left would have tied the game.

Jackson did not turn the ball over in the second half and finished with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He had five assists, two steals and four rebounds. He continues to struggle at the free-throw line where he was 2-for-7.

The long and short of it: Ohio State’s backcourt is a difficult match-up for the Irish. Jackson and McAlarney are 5-foot-11 and 6-foot-0 respectively. Ohio State’s guards are 6-foot-6 (Jon Diebler), 6-foot-5 (William Buford), and 6-foot-2 (Jeremie Simmons), with guys like 6-foot-7 Evan Turner and 6-foot-5 David Lighty swinging between the frontcourt and the backcourt.

Not only are they a tough match-up on their offensive end, but their length pushes another team’s offense away from the basket.

“I think we got used to (their length) a few minutes into the game,” McAlarney said, “But I don’t think we used enough ball fakes to get their defense moving.

“It’s a difficult transition. We’re not the most imposing backcourt height-wise. In the halfcourt, they really extend it out and I think it really affected us as far as getting into the lane.”

Added Jackson: “We didn’t get into an offensive groove and it got to us. We’re going to learn from this.”

Turn(er) it on: Evan Turner crushed the Irish. He finished with 28 points, 20 of which came in the second half. He had five of Ohio State’s 11 offensive rebounds and made the Irish pay each time by converting it into a bucket.

“We recruited him,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “He’s such a slashing guy and he got a bunch of it on the offensive boards. He really took advantage of some match-ups, and a lot of it was on the backboard. A lot of it was put-backs that really got them going.”

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has seen Turner, just a sophomore, mature quickly.

“Evan made big plays down the stretch for us,” Matta said. “It felt like he had a pretty good feel for where his opportunities were. We talked about where we could take advantage of Notre Dame, if that’s possible, and he had a pretty good read on it.

“He is a winner. He’s very competitive. About two weeks ago, I started to see a side of him where he was really involved in everything. He started saying, ‘Coach, we need to run this, or, ‘Have you thought about this?’”

Turner made 11-of-16 shots. The rest of the Buckeyes were just 14-of-46 (30.3 percent).

The switch is on: Notre Dame’s switching defense didn’t serve the Irish well against Ohio State.

“In the course of their offense, we got switched and had a smaller guy at the end of the (shot) clock, and (Turner) shot over our guys,” Brey said.

“Switching is really good for us and it has helped us to be successful. But we probably have to find a happy medium. We may be over-switching a little bit. That’s something we need practice on, and we haven’t had great practice reps lately.”

A greater threat: Kyle McAlarney came into the Ohio State game having converted 37-of-his-last-68 three-point attempts—an incredible 54.4 percent.

But against the Buckeyes’ long backcourt, he was 0-for-6 from three-point range and just 3-for-11 overall.

Ohio State had a plan, which reminded Matta of playing against Duke a few years ago.

“Five years ago we were preparing for Duke and J.J. Redick,” Matta recalled. “We feared (McAlarney) more than we did J.J. Redick because of his ability to get his shot off.

“We showed I don’t know how many clips of (McAlarney) getting (his shot) off. Did we do anything special? Yeah, because he is a game changer and I haven’t seen too many like him.”

Grinding one out: When the Irish are running and hitting from the outside, they’re pretty difficult to stop. But Saturday’s game in Lucas Oil Stadium was a different style—Big Ten like—and the Irish didn’t adapt well to the tempo of the game.

“One of the things we have to learn is if we’re not in a shootout into the 80s, can we grind it out?” Brey said. “This was obviously going to be one of those grinders, and we’re going to be in games like that. Can we win games 68-65? That’s going to be the test.”

The Irish had a primer for games like these on their way out to Maui. They survived a close, low-scoring game against Loyola Marymount in which the Lions used the entire 35-second shot clock. But no one is comparing Loyola Marymount to Ohio State.

“We had won a game like that, but obviously Loyola Marymount’s personnel is a lot different than Ohio State’s personnel,” Brey said. “But it was a slow tempo game. We weren’t in a very good offensive rhythm.

“We’re still learning those things (with) a really talented offensive group. It’s not that rhythm we had in that last game or at practice. Well, we’re going to have to grind it and we’re going to have to play against bodies like that.”

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