Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson had a rough game for most of the evening, but the 6-foot-1 junior made several critical plays down the stretch to redeem himself and extend the Irish's season.
After hitting one of his first 10 shots, Jackson scored six of Notre Dame's final eight points as the sixth-seeded Irish defeated seventh-seeded Wisconsin, 61-56, in an NCAA East Regional semifinal Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Notre Dame (24-11) will play North Carolina in Sunday night's regional final. Wisconsin, which had been to the previous two Final Fours, ended its season 22-13.
"We did a great job sticking with it and giving ourselves a chance to win," said Jackson, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. "We had a lot of mistakes in the game and took our punches and got back up, kept fighting, kept believing, and kind of made it happen."
For Notre Dame, which trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, it was the third straight NCAA comeback win. The Irish overcame a 12-point halftime deficit in an opening 70-63 win over Michigan and needed a tip-in with 1.5 seconds left to beat Stephen F. Austin, 76-75.
"I saw we were the 16th rated team of the 16 teams left but I thought we were the toughest team, the No. 1 team in toughness and I think it played itself out again in the third game," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
With 46.5 seconds left and Wisconsin holding a 53-51 lead, Badgers redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, fouled out.
Notre Dame's Zach Auguste then hit both ends of a one-and-one to tie the score.
Wisconsin's Vitto Brown hit a three-pointer off a feed from Nigel Hayes to give the Badgers a 56-53 lead, but Jackson quickly answered with a driving layup.
On a Notre Dame trap, Jackson then stole the ball from Hayes and scored on a layup with 13 seconds left to give the Irish a 57-56 advantage.
Wisconsin point guard Bronson Koenig missed a driving layup and Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem, who had a game-high 19 points, was fouled and hit both ends of a one-and-one with 6.8 seconds left.
Jackson then stole the ball from Koenig and was fouled with 2.7 seconds left and after he made both free throws, the Irish were headed to the Elite Eight for the second straight season.
Beachem, a 6-8 junior who scored four points in four NCAA games last season, has averaged 17.3 points in Notre Dame's three NCAA wins. He hit 3 of 5 three-point attempts, while the rest of his teammates were 1 for 8.
Wisconsin led, 23-19, at the half and neither team shot well. The Badgers were 9 for 26 and Notre Dame shot 7 for 29.
"We had better movement and our shots were a little more open in the second half," Beachem said.
Notre Dame forced 10 of Wisconsin's 17 turnovers in the second half.
"I thought 17 turnovers, we deal with that, but we never quite got where we needed to get taking care of the ball all year," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.
And in the end, the Badgers couldn't deal with Jackson, who hit 5 of 8 after his 1 for 10 start.
"I tried to finish strong, do whatever I can to help out team win games," Jackson said. "I kept believing and my teammates did a great job of encouraging me."