NEW YORK — Rex Plfueger tapped in a miss with 1.5 seconds left and Notre Dame survived a valiant effort by No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin 76-75 on Sunday to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
With 17.5 seconds left, sixth-seed Notre Dame grabbed an SFA rebound down one and put it in the hands of Demetrius Jackson. The point guard drove to the basket and missed. Zach Auguste followed for the Irish (23-11) but could not convert. The ball slipped off the rim and with one hand Pflueger flipped it in for his only basket of the game.
A long heave from Stephen F. Austin (28-6) went wide and Notre Dame celebrated by swarming Pflueger.
The Irish advance to play either Wisconsin or Xavier Friday in the East Regional at Philadelphia.
Thomas Walkup, the hero of Stephen F. Austin’s first-round upset of West Virginia, scored 21.
Jackson had 18 points, helping the Irish erase a five-point lead in the last two minutes with a driving layup and two free throws.
The Lumberjacks’ first-round win against West Virginia was a defensive grind, with both teams pressuring the ball and making few shots. No mid-major has been as dominate in its conference over the last three seasons as SFA, making its third straight tournament appearance. The Lumberjacks never flinched in the face of West Virginia’s full-court press and on Sunday they went shot-for-shot with the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame finally started putting a little distance between itself and SFA when V.J. Beachem hit a fallaway to make it 62-55 with a 9:18 left.
Then Walkup answered with a conventional three-point play and Demetrious Floyd made back-to-back 3s and with 6:58 left it was 64-all.
When Floyd made a 3 in transition with 3:31 left, it gave SFA a 73-70 lead. SFA forced turnovers on Notre Dame’s next two possessions — the Lumberjacks lead the nation in taking it away — and Walkup made to from the line to up the lead to five. It was the last points of the tournament for Stephen F. Austin.
Walkup picked up his third foul with 17:53 left in the second half. He stayed in and dropped in a jumper a few moments later, but coach Brad Underwood had to sit his star for a chunk of the second half that he might not have otherwise.
The Lumberjacks showed they could pick up for the two-time Southland Conference player of the year, getting offense from T.J. Holyfield (15 points) and Floyd (16).