Notre Dame hit six of its first 10 three-point shots including three straight as part of an 11-2 run to start the contest and Syracuse shot just 34 percent for the game in a 67-58 Irish upset.
The Orange were the seventh of nine total top-ranked teams to meet their match at the ACC/JACC/Purcell Pavilion, each of the previous six had been defeated at the hands of ex-Irish head coach Digger Phelps. ( Story on No. 1 upsets here ).
But in his first-ever matchup vs. the nation's best on his home floor, current head coach Mike Brey kept the tradition alive, winning 67-58 Saturday night over the cold-shooting Orange.
"What I've always focused on has been being really consistent in league play, trying to get to double digit league wins," Brey offered before adding "But for this team (he told them), ‘I don't want you to even think about this as a league game.
"This is a one game shot at a great memory in your athletic history where when you come back for reunions 10 years from now, and (current assistant coach) Martin Ingelsby is coaching and I'm in a walker, you guys are going to talk about this and you're going to buy me a beer; because you owe me.'"
Junior center Jack Cooley was the game MVP, scoring 17 points and ripping down 10 rebounds, both game highs. Cooley's six offensive boards kept the Orange at bay during the frantic second half. Brey's Irish never trailed, though the top-ranked visitors cut Notre Dame's lead to eight twice while the game was still in doubt: 38-30 at the 17:54 mark, and 54-46 with 3:55 remaining.
Taking PunchesSyracuse hit just 8 of 28 field goals in the first half but cut Notre Dame's nearly unbelievable 18-point lead to 12 with guard Dion Waiters' personal 6-0 run in the final minute. The Orange scored seven of the first 11 points in the second stanza but Notre Dame continually fought back vs. Syracuse runs, pushing the aforementioned 38-30 lead to 17, 50-33, with just over 10 minutes remaining, and from a precarious six points with under a minute left back to 10 to ice the contest late.
"I was a little concerned about our psyche," Brey noted of the runs. "Waiters hit the two 3s, they sped us up a little bit…but our poise – I saw that same body language in (a win) at Louisville.
7'0" Syracuse center Fab Melo did not make the trip to South Bend due to an apparent unresolved academic issue. "Not really any difference," Brey said of his game plan in Melo's absence. "I told someone, ‘So they have nine pros instead of 10?' They didn't have Melo and we didn't have Abro so it's a push," he noted of injured Irish forward Tim Abromaitis.
Turn and BurnNotre Dame turned it over 17 times including a few ugly miscues that included dropped balls out of bounds vs. Syracuse's full-court press and even a ball thrown accidentally in the Orange basket by Irish guard Jerian Grant that cut the host's lead to eight with 5:20 remaining.
"Really good poise, there was a calmness about us," Brey said of his troops following moments of adversity. "Even after a mistake vs. the press guys came over and said, ‘That's my fault,' I told them don't worry about it…on to the next play."
The Irish predictably bled the shot clock vs. Syracuse zone. They made the Orange pay from long range, but also on the backboard where the hosts dominated by a 38-25 margin.
Notre Dame knocked down 8 of 16 from long range for the game. For Brey, that was the key to the upset.
"You have to make some 3s on them to beat them," Brey noted of the Syracuse zone defense. "You can talk about hitting the short corner, you can talk about hitting the middle, but you have to shoot some jumpers over the top of that thing in order to feel good; to have a chance. Any time we've beaten them we've shot it well from beyond the arc."
6th Man shows upIt took 20 games, but the Leprechaun Legion and South Bend's diehards finally showed up in a fervor to cheer on the now 12-8 (4-3) Irish. "The energy in the building is as good as I remember in my 12 years," Brey said.
Senior captain Scott Martin captured the feelings of most of his jubilant teammates post-game, noting, "This is why you play. You dream about this as a little kid, seeing it on TV growing up with fans rushing the floor. I can't put it into words. That was unbelievable."
Martin finished with 13 points and six rebounds but it was his play in the high post that helped facilitate Notre Dame's patient half-court sets.
"Our guys today, they were kind of running themselves. They did a heck of a job. I thought Scott Martin was fabulous leading us," Brey offered.
"We get energy off of our fans. We play off of what they do," Cooley said. "We couldn't let them down. We had to go out and play our hardest.
"I can't even describe this right now," he continued. "They were 20-0. I can't put into words how amazing this is."