PHILADELPHIA -- The ball bounced hard and high off the rims, unforgiving all night for Notre Dame. Except, of course, this time it slipped back through the net, the 2-point jumper counting for Demetrius Jackson.
Of course it did. This is how Notre Dame wins basketball games, with second-half turnarounds gutted out as much on stoicism as skill, built on sudden bursts of offense that somehow make you forgive everything that came before.
The Irish had no business beating Wisconsin on Friday night. Zero. They couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, Zach Auguste missing more bunnies than you'll find at an Easter egg hunt this weekend.
And then all of a sudden, there it was -- four minutes of offense, two brilliant defensive plays, and the Irish are back in the Elite Eight, beating Wisconsin, 61-56, in a finish that was as stunning as it was unexpected.
How do they do it? Coach Mike Brey insists it is destiny, that his team denied a shot at the Final Four in a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky last year, is due.
That's a fine, mystical approach. The more realistic one is that Notre Dame simply finds ways to win, manufacturing just enough out of a 40-minute game to leave opponents wondering what happened and fans breathless. They did the same to Michigan in this NCAA tournament. Ditto Stephen F. Austin, wresting victory from the jaws of defeat all the way to the regional final.
Notre Dame trailed, 49-44, when Jackson got the sweet kiss from the rims, which means the Irish scored 17 points in the final four minutes -- or only two fewer than they managed in the entire first half.
The box score will explain the rest of the shots -- a V.J. Beachem 3-pointer, a dunk and two free throws from Auguste, and then Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, with two Beachem foul shots mixed in.
It doesn't do justice to the improbability of it all.
Jackson, one of the guys who clanked a free throw against Kentucky last season, wisely went for the 2 with under 20 seconds left, scoring on a drive with 19.5 seconds left to cut the Wisconsin lead to 56-55.
And then the guy who has had that missed free throw running through his mind for a year erased it with two defensive plays that simply rewrote the book on how did the Irish do that.
He trapped Nigel Hayes on an inbound, ripping the ball out of his hands with a ferocity a year in the making. Jackson corralled the loose ball for a layup to give the Irish the lead. When Wisconsin went for its last-gasp effort, he did the same to Bronson Koenig, wresting the ball from the guard's clutches to make sure that Notre Dame would get a return date with destiny.
Luck of the Irish?
More like really good timing.