On Thursday, Notre Dame will get a chance to back up the regular season recognition. The 16th-ranked Irish will play Syracuse (22-9) in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament in New York City. ESPN will have the television coverage and tip-off will be a few minutes after 2 PM because of the noon contest between No. 9 Georgetown and Villanova. This will be the Irish's first game since last Saturday's 73-66 win at Rutgers. The regular season finale victory finished Notre Dame's year at 23-6 and 11-5 in the conference. They're a lock for the NCAA Tournament and a solid showing in the Big Apple will only improve their seeding for the Big Dance.
The Orange are in the quarterfinals after beating Connecticut 78-65 on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Jim Boeheim's team is looking for their third straight Big East Tournament Championship. With the victory, they are more than likely off the NCAA Tournament bubble and a lock for the Big Dance. It wasn't easy going in the first half. UCONN built a two-point halftime lead but it could have been more if it wasn't for the performance of Eric Devendorf. The Orange guard scored 15 points before intermission on 7-of-10 shooting to keep Syracuse in the game.
In the second half, it was the Demetris Nichols show. The 6-8 senior forward scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half, including seven baskets from three-point range. It was a great example of why he was the league's leading scorer and a unanimous selection for the all-conference first-team. The Orange came out of the locker room and went on a 25-8 run to take a 61-46 advantage. The Huskies, who finished their disappointing season at 17-14, showed frustration down the stretch as technicals were called on head coach Jim Calhoun and forward Jeff Adrien. Syracuse held UCONN to 37 percent shooting in the contest and held Adrien, the Huskies' best player, to 3-of-12 from the field. Devendorf ended the game with 19 points while center Darryl Watkins added eight points and 10 rebounds.
Notre Dame has played the Orange once before this year and it might have been their best effort of the season. The Irish, playing without starting forward Rob Kurz because of an ankle injury, went into the Carrier Dome and throttled Syracuse 103-91. Notre Dame was the first road team at the venue to crack 100 points in 10 years. Five Irish players scored in double figures, led by Harangody's 21 points and 13 rebounds. Jackson added 19 points and seven assists while Zack Hillesland chipped in a career-high 14 points and 10 rebounds. Nichols was one of the few bright spots for the Orange, pouring in 29 points.
The Irish better be aware of the revenge factor. Notre Dame played three Big East teams twice this season. All three times, the loser of the first contest won the repeat encounter. The Irish lost at Villanova 102-87 on January 17th but beat the Wildcats 66-63 10 days later. Notre Dame whipped South Florida 82-58 at the Joyce Center on January 21st but the Bulls answered with a 69-63 win in Tampa on February 3rd. DePaul gave the Irish their most crushing loss of the year, a come-from-behind 67-66 victory in Chicago on February 8th. Notre Dame exacted revenge 12 days later with a 78-54 beat down of the Blue Demons in South Bend. Coincidentally, the same situation occurred to Syracuse this season. They beat Villanova and lost to St. John's and UCONN the first time around. In the second meetings, the opposite outcome ruled.