The dream run ended for No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin on Sunday as Notre Dame freshman Rex Pflueger tipped in the go-ahead bucket with 1.7 seconds left to give No. 6 seed Notre Dame a 76-75 win in the East Region in Brooklyn.
With Notre Dame trailing by a point on their final possession, junior point guard Demetrius Jackson attacked the basket and missed a contested runner. After Fighting Irish senior big man Zach Auguste recovered the Jackson missed shot, and missed his own putback, Pflueger — who was in for defensive purposes — knocked in the game-winning tip to finish with his only two points of the game. Stephen F. Austin’s final attempt missed at the buzzer from near halfcourt to seal the win.
Notre Dame (23-11) was down 75-70 with 1:35 left but rallied behind the play of Jackson, who made a layup and two free throws to make it a one-point game. Jackson finished with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting as his dribble penetration gave the Lumberjack defense fits for most of the game. Auguste tallied a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds as his size was a factor against a smaller Stephen F. Austin team while V.J. Beacham added 15 points as his early hot streak in the tournament continued in the first half.
Stephen F. Austin (28-6) gave Notre Dame everything they had but their offense sputtered in the final minutes when they slowed the game down. Senior Thomas Walkup finished his final college game by putting on another tremendous performance. Walkup battled foul trouble to finish with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists as he went 7-for-13 from the field. It was another outstanding game for Walkup, who was undoubtedly one of this weekend’s biggest stars.
Senior Demetrius Floyd also got hot from the perimeter and finished with 16 points on 4-for-9 shooting while T.J. Holyfield added 15 points for the Lumberjacks.
With Walkup graduating, and head coach Brad Underwood likely to be courted for several higher-profile jobs this offseason, it’s hard to say how this Stephen F. Austin team will look next season.
Regardless of what happens next year, the Lumberjacks have had as good of a three-year run as a low-major in recent history. Stephen F. Austin beat VCU and West Virginia in big NCAA tournament upsets as a double-digit seeds and also gave legitimate scares to Utah and Notre Dame in losses the past two years in the tournament. With a 59-1 mark in the Southland Conference, this program has made an incredible three-year run and it certainly could continue it Underwood stays.
The Fighting Irish have now been involved in plenty of NCAA tournament drama the last two seasons. They barely survived Northeastern in the opener last year before needing overtime to take down Butler in the next round. Everybody, of course, remembers Notre Dame’s Elite Eight war with Kentucky last season, and now, the Irish have two tight wins over Michigan and Stephen F. Austin in the 2016 proceedings.
It probably doesn’t make life much easier on Notre Dame fans to be in so many close tournament games, but Mike Brey’s club will certainly be ready for whatever when they enter the Sweet 16 next weekend.
Notre Dame moves on to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of No. 7 seed Wisconsin and No. 2 Xavier next Friday in the East Region in Philadelphia.
Here’s another angle of Pflueger’s game-winning tip from Emily Van Buskirk: