NOTRE DAME, Ind.-It was finally Tory Jackson's time to lead the Irish.
By scoring, that is, instead of setting up others to score.
Jackson, who had just seven games in double-figure scoring this season, tossed in 18 points, including three baskets and a crucial three-point play in the final four minutes to lead the Irish (17-7, 6-5) to a 65-62 victory over South Florida (15-8, 5-6) Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
"Tory Jackson was flat out fabulous, just refused to let us lose the game," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "But I'm not surprised because he's been kind of running our whole locker room since Christmas."
Jackson finished 7-of-13 from the field - - both numbers season highs - - to spark the Irish down the stretch of a second half that was tied eight times and saw the lead change hands eight times.
Jackson's relentless effort in traffic with 3:36 remaining gave the Irish a 56-54 lead, and another drive to the basket at the 2:02 mark pushed the Irish ahead 60-58.
But his biggest basket came with 1:01 left when he nailed a 17-footer just above the foul line, drew the foul, and converted the three-point play for a 63-58 lead.
"I wanted this win bad," Jackson said. "I thought about that commercial with (Michael) Jordan where he's talking about how many game-winning shots that he's missed.
"But he had a lot of them that he made, too, so after I thought about that, I laughed, went to the free-throw line and knocked the free throw down."
The Irish needed every bit of Jackson's heroics after allowing a 15-point first-half lead deteriorate into a halftime tie, and then a six-point South Florida lead midway through the second half.
Notre Dame forged an advantage in the first half by clamping down on offensive juggernaut Dominique Jones, who came into the game averaging 35.0 points per game in South Florida's previous four victories.
Brey put Ben Hansbrough on Jones, rotated Jackson on him, and gave Jonathan Peoples a chance to hound him for a bit. The Irish eventually held the Big East's leading scorer to just 3-of-17 shooting and a mere 10 points.
"We just wanted some other guys to shoot the ball," said Brey of their approach with Jones, who had fueled South Florida's four-game winning streak, including victories over Pittsburgh and Georgetown.
"When they've been on this stretch, he's been averaging mid-30s, and it's been him exploding. We've always done a pretty good job against him. You just wanted some other guys to score."
Two others in particular did just that. Guard Chris Howard, whose previous season high was 16 points and career high was 19 points, netted 23 on 9-of-15 shooting. He came into the game averaging 9.8 points per game. Six-foot-11, 240-pound Jarrid Famous also exploded for 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
But it was Famous who missed one of the most crucial shots of the game - - a free throw with 8.3 seconds remaining and the Irish clinging to a one-point lead. Ty Nash got the rebound for the Irish, and Luke Harangody eventually was fouled. Harangody nailed both free throws with 4.0 seconds remaining, and Jones' three-point runner was on line but just off the back of the iron as the buzzer sounded.
"We can't seem to get the Irish's number," said South Florida head coach Stan Heath. "We just come up a little bit short.
"Had you told me that we'd go 50 percent from the free-throw line and Dominique Jones would have an off day and we'd still have a chance to win, I've got to say that I'd be surprised we'd be in the game under those circumstances."
The Bulls were 10-of-20 from the line and made just 4-of-14 from beyond the arc, which closely followed a statistical trend this season that surprisingly hasn't cost them more often.
One thing South Florida does well is limit the opposition's scoring and shooting, and after converting on 56.5 percent of its shots in the first half, Notre Dame made just 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) from the field in the second half. Fortunately, the Irish made 13-of-15 from the charity stripe in the second half, including their last 10. Harangody converted all eight of his attempts for the game.
"I don't mind being in that situation at all," said Harangody, who finished with a team-high 19 points on just 5-of-17 shooting from the field. "I kind of like being in that situation. I want the ball in my hands at that stage of the game."
It was Harangody who decided to take a jab at Famous to dislodge the ball and was called for the foul to give Famous a chance to tie the game.
"It was just one of those things where he came over and your initial reaction is get a piece of him," Harangody said. "It was a mental mistake, which is kind of why I wanted the ball in my hands to make up for that."
Harangody was beating himself up after the game for the mistake he made.
"He was so down after the game because of that," Brey said. "I said, 'Would you smile!'"
The game looked as if it were going to be a laugher as the Irish opened up a 16-2 lead. But led by Famous and Howard, the Bulls slowly worked their way back into the game. Famous led the way for South Florida in the paint. The Bulls scored 36 points in the lane while Howard compensated for Jones' off game in and around the basket.
The Bulls, who came into the game with 19 more turnovers than assists, finished with 17 assists and just five turnovers. The Irish had an uncharacteristically low 12 assists, which was a testament to the defense played by South Florida.
"They're a good team," Harangody said. "This is a good win for us. To take two from them in the Big East is big."