Orange guard Gerry McNamara made sure that didn't happen. A driving lay-up by the senior with less than 15 seconds left put the nail in Notre Dame's coffin as Syracuse held on for a 88-82 win over the Irish Wednesday night at the Joyce Center. It was Notre Dame's eighth loss in nine games to the Orange. McNamara finished the contest with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-23 shooting and it was his big basket at the end that silenced the hopes of Notre Dame (9-5, 0-3) earning their first Big East win of the season. All three losses have been by six points or less.
"All you can do is go back and punch the clock," head coach Mike Brey said. "We will do that come tomorrow because on Saturday we play a team (Providence) who is scratching for one, too."
"We lay it on the line when we play. I respect that. Eventually you have to earn one. It won't be your turn."
The key possession of the game was McNamara's tough drive to the hole. After clawing back from a 70-59 deficit with just under eight minutes remaining, a Chris Quinn three-pointer cut the Orange lead to 85-82 with 45 seconds left. Instead of fouling, Brey chose to play defense. A missed trap near half court put freshman Kyle McAlarney on McNamara. Experienced paid off as the senior drove to the right and scooped in a tough shot to seal the deal for Syracuse. The Orange improved to 14-2 on the season and 2-0 in conference play.
"At the end of a game, Gerry is going to make plays like that," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. "He made a shot like that here last year. If Gerry played at Notre Dame, he probably average 25 points a game for four years because that's what he gets when he comes here."
"He's a heck of a basketball player," Brey said of McNamara. "He's truly a winner. He sets the tone for them. He gives them a mental toughness.
"I didn't want to foul (at the end). They had made their free throws. I was hoping we would have a shot like we did at Pittsburgh and tie it because it was a one possession game. He made a great play. They made key offensive plays to hold us off. I love our group but we're 0-3 in the league. We got to come back in and get to work."
Colin Falls led all Notre Dame scorers with 18 points. The junior guard connected on six three-pointers as the Irish shot 12-of-25 (48 percent) for the game from behind the arc. Russell Carter's aggressive play saw him rack up 15 points while sophomore Rob Kurz had his second-best point total of the year with 15. Quinn, Notre Dame's leading scorer on the season, had 12 points in the contest and Torin Francis notched another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
McNamara wasn't the Orange's only scoring threat. Freshman Eric Devendorf poured in 22 points, including 14 points in the second half mostly on strong drives to the basket. Darryl Watkins matched Francis's double-double with one of his own, pulling down 10 rebounds and scoring 14 points. Demetris Nichols added 16 points as Boeheim was happy with his team's performance shooting the ball.
"We knew coming in that Notre Dame had lost an incredibly tough game to Pittsburgh and had played well at DePaul," Boeheim said. "Their backs were against the wall. We knew they were a good offensive team and we hadn't been playing well offensively and we had been making a lot of turnovers. Tonight we made just five and that was the difference in the way we played."
The first half saw a flurry of three-point shots. A combined 16 baskets from long-distance range were made but the two teams were successful in doing so. Syracuse shot 47 from behind the arc in the first half while Notre Dame did even better at 50 percent. McNamara scored 15 points in the first 20 minutes on five made three-pointers but was countered by Falls' 12 points on four long distance shots.
The Irish did a good job early oo passing the ball around to the open man. Of their 14 made shots in the first half, all of them were assisted. One of those assists went to McAlarney, whose three-pointer capped a 9-0 Notre Dame run and put the Irish up 26-20. But the Orange quickly struck back with an 11-0 run that saw McNamara drain two shots from behind the arc for a 31-26 Syracuse lead. A back-and-forth affair from then to the halftime buzzer ended when Devendorf's pretty drive to the basket gave the Orange a 46-41 advantage heading into the locker room.