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February 26, 2009

Jackson back on point

The film looked so old Tory Jackson probably saw black and white.

But Mike Brey made the point, even if it felt antiquated to his point guard. So last week Notre Dame's coach flipped on tape of last year's win at Rutgers when Jackson missed a triple-double by just two rebounds. The Irish distributor-in-chief was so good ESPN crafted an in-game vignette of the guard during that road win.

Now the Irish commanded a sequel.

"I think he needs to score for us, there's no question about it," Brey said. "We're not telling him not to score, he just doesn't have to force it. He needs to set the table first."

In that case Jackson won a game of memory Wednesday when Rutgers came to the Joyce Center. The junior finished with 18 points, four assists, three rebounds and one turnover in Notre Dame's 70-65 escape. It was Jackson's best scoring output since Jan. 10, so long ago it predates the seven-game skid that brought the Irish postseason into question.

For Notre Dame to find the right answer during the season's final three games and its trip to the Big East Tournament, Jackson must play this kind of part. It's a role he side stepped last week at West Virginia and Providence when he totaled eight points and one assist.

"Providence was a reality check for me," Jackson said. "Tonight I just felt like I could go out there and be confident, go out there and play my game.

"Everybody else has been confident, I feel like I've been down on myself. I'm the type of person where I beat myself up for every little thing. I've got to lose that attitude because it shows on the court."

It came again Wednesday as Notre Dame trailed 21-10 to a team with one Big East victory all season. That's when Jackson, who'd drawn Brey's exasperation earlier for hunting his shot, put that tension on parole.

He started forcing the issue by driving into Rutgers' defense. The move jump started Notre Dame comeback.

"I've been playing tight lately, I haven't really been playing my game," Jackson said. "Toward the end of the first half I took a deep breath and let it go. I smiled inside. I felt a lot better and things started rolling after that."

No kidding.

Jackson started Notre Dame's second half run with a power drive that turned into a three-point play opportunity. Two minutes later he drained a jumper to put Notre Dame up 38-37, the first Irish advantage in more than 20 minutes. It capped an 11-2 run.

"His energy is very contagious," said Kyle McAlarney. "It's very evident out there. When he's down it seems the energy level on the team is down."

Jackson scored 13 of his points in the second half as Notre Dame finished off a Rutgers team with enough talent in freshman guard Mike Rosario to be dangerous. The former McDonald's All-American finished with 20 points but turned the ball over six times. Jackson played a major part in that inefficiency, teaming with Ryan Ayers to limit the Scarlet Knights' top scorer.

"I thought he did a real good job on Rosario," Brey said. "His speed getting through screens helped."

But Jackson's confidence provided the biggest assist.

Now Brey has a new highlight tape to use.



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