Good Looks Not Enough

The glare of the national spotlight -- ESPN, a Top 10 opponent -- obviously blinded Notre Dame's jump shooters Monday night. The Irish left the Carrier Dome with nothing but their good looks and a disppointing defeat. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports on the sour end of a positive road trip.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

January 14, 2002

Irish Get the Looks,
Syracuse Snares Victory

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

SYRACUSE (IE) – Suffice to say, David Graves, Matt Carroll and Chris Thomas have not been left out in the looks department. They have the ability to melt the heart of many on the Notre Dame campus.

But good looks were not enough Monday night at the Carrier Dome, where the Irish's three jump shooters combined to sink just seven-of-33 shots, paving the way for a disappointing 56-51 loss to No. 8 Syracuse.

"We didn't get many easy baskets, but you know what, a Dave Graves/Matt Carroll/Chris Thomas open three is an easy one," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "We got to make them. Not all of them, but we got to make a good percentage to be successful."

With the defeat, the Irish fell two and one-half games behind Syracuse in the West Division of the Big East. Notre Dame is 12-4 overall, 2-2 in the conference. Syracuse is 16-2 and 5-0.

The Irish received an All-American performance from senior forward Ryan Humphrey, who scored a Big East career high 28 points and had 11 rebounds. He made 13 of his final 16 shots.

"I would rather have scored zero points and won," said Humphrey. "But what are the chances that none of the other starters get into double-figures? Zero chance."

Not quite. Graves was two-for-11 in 38 minutes. Carroll made just two-of-nine. Thomas shot three-of-13 and completed his first Big East road trip a dismal nine-for-34.  No Irish player other than Humphrey had more than eight points.

"I had a lot of good looks," Thomas said. "Nobody could get into a rhythm. We didn't get our fair share of easy baskets. If we had maybe we would have been more confident."

The 51 points were the fewest the Irish have scored in a Big East Conference game since a 63-49 loss to Miami on January 25, 2000. It is the third lowest output for Notre Dame in conference play since it joined the Big East in 1995. It entered averaging nearly 81 points a contest this season.

From a positive perspective, the Irish allowed just 173 points (57.6 per contest) in their three-game road trip (2-1) and held Syracuse to a mere three-for-16 from three-point territory.

"I think both teams were tired and the legs just weren't there for shooting," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "It was a difficult night for offense."

Syracuse – playing before its largest home crowd of the season, 20,008 – wasn't at its best either, but received an outstanding first-half from junior Kueth Duany (19 points, 15 before intermission) and a solid final 20 minutes from All-American candidate Preston Shumpert (13 of his 15 in the second half).

"We went to a little diamond and one early on Shumpert," said Brey. "We wanted to see if someone else could beat us. Duany accepted that responsibility."

Meanwhile, no-one stepped up for the Irish from the perimeter. After Carroll, Thomas and Graves hit threes in the first nine minutes, the trio went ice-cold. In an extended stretch from 11-9 Notre Dame with 10:35 left in the first-half to 52-43 Syracuse with 5:20 left in the game, Humphrey scored 24 of Notre Dame's 32 points.

"At times we kind of forced the issue on the outside," said Thomas. "It's a little frustrating because we could have picked their zone apart real easily."

Alas, that's a freshman talking. How is a kid from Indianapolis to know that in 30 years of coaching, hardly anyone has figured out how to "pick apart" a Jim Boeheim-coached 2-3 zone?  There's a reason why they are naming the court after this guy at the Carrier Dome, even if some of the local yahoos still hoot at him whenever the tide turns against the Orange.

Still, it was a very competitive game with 11 minutes to play. Notre Dame trailed just 39-38 and had the ball. But a lazy Graves pass into a phalanx of long Syracuse arms led to a turnover that Shumpert converted into a basket. Carroll missed a wide-open three and center Craig Forth scored down low at the other end. Thomas turned the ball over on the next possession and Shumpert hit a three.

Bang, bang, bang, Syracuse led 46-38 and the Carrier Dome was rocking. The lead extended to 52-39 and that was too much for Notre Dame to overcome.

Not that the Irish didn't try. A Harold Swanagan bucket got the deficit to 54-49 with 2:55 remaining and the Irish buckled down and forced Syracuse into back-to-back shot clock violations. But Notre Dame made just one-of-seven shots in the final two minutes, finishing a dreadful 22-for-63 from the field, easily the worst marksmanship of the season.

Brey was pragmatic later.

"You know, 2-2 is probably where we are at right now," said Brey. "I was happy with what we did defensively, we gave ourselves a chance to win. But now we need to get home and get a little bit of rest."


THE NOTEBOOK: Brey's explanation for grabbing the ball on the sidelines in the second-half, despite Syracuse's Duany being in hot pursuit? "I was open," he laughed. "Besides, I don't think Duany can guard me." The strange play almost triggered an Irish rally. ND scored the next six points to trim a seemingly dire deficit to 52-47. While Boeheim steamed, the official explanation was the ball "attacked" Brey on the sideline and Brey lacked "intent" in grabbing it. Brey said "we do not have players as long as Duany, I never thought he had a chance to get the ball.".....Swanagan was two-for-nine from the field, though he did have seven offensive rebounds. He limped off the court with 14:46 remaining and looked to be done for the night, but did return. "He needs a couple of days off," said Brey. Without Swanagan setting confident screens, Notre Dame is not the same team offensively…..Brey was not pleased with the effort off the bench of Jere Macura (nine minutes, no points, no rebounds). "Jere gave us great energy on Wednesday and Saturday," Brey told IrishEyes. "Tonight he was not as ready to fight as he was those two games. We need him to compete." Down 19-15 in the first-half, Macura was fouled while shooting down low. Swanagan was at the scorer's table ready to be buzzed if Macura made the second free throw. Macura missed both, and then lost Duany on the other end for an easy three. That was a four-point turnaround, the exact ND deficit at the half. "That was a huge exchange," said Brey. "Jere has to understand that."…..Brey doesn't feel that Syracuse – the only Big East team in the Top 10 – is going to run away with the West Division. "They are clearly the most confident group and they deserve to be 5-0 right now," said Brey. "But there is still a lot of basketball to be played."…….The Notre Dame coach would probably cast his vote right now for Duany as the conference's Most Improved Player. "Some guys want to do more and can't," said Brey. "He can do more. He did his internship (sitting on the Syracuse bench for two years) and now it's time to be a man."……The Irish begin a six-week stretch with seven of 10 games at the Joyce Center on Saturday when Kentucky visits. "I'm glad it's not a conference game," said Brey. "It's a free shot. We can just wing it. But we need the students there."

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at Top Stories