Irish head coach Mike Brey knew that once Syracuse exposed its zone, McAlarney would have a big game. A great deal of the junior's historic day, Brey feels is because of his teammates finding him. "A guy like Kyle, who is a shooter, when he's been hounded and chested up for forty minutes, that's hard," Brey said. "When they see a zone, they feel like they're on spring break. They can run around and cut and get their feet set. I thought we did a good job of moving him to different spots, and what really helps him is that everyone we put in the game can pass. "
Early on in the contest, McAlarney made his presence felt, moving without the ball along the perimeter giving his teammates the opportunity to find him for the open shot. Notre Dame focused on setting up its half-court offense, stressing ball movement and lengthier possessions attempting to find the best opportunity. With just under 17 minutes to go in the first half, the Irish were employing quick passes when Rob Kurz found McAlarney in the corner for a three-pointer in addition to a foul from Donte Green. The guard converted the free throw to complete the four-point play and push Notre Dame on top, 11-4.
Both squads continued to exchange baskets, as Orange forward Kristof Ongenaet converted on some early chances keeping Syracuse competitive. On the defensive side of the ball the Orange were playing physical post defense against Luke Harangody, matching up their big men, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson on the Big East's leading scorer. Coach Brey brought in Luke Zeller to hover around the free throw line, using his height and vision to find his teammates. With over 14 left in the half, Zeller received the ball in the high post, and fed Harangody with a no-look bounce pass leading to a forceful dunk, putting the Irish up 14-8.
When Syracuse had the ball, coach Brey switched between man-to-man schemes to a 1-2-2 zone. Going off of the Orange's nature as a poor perimeter shooting team, embodied through their Big East-worst 28-percent three point shooting, Brey stuck with the zone, inviting them to settle for the outside jumper. The strategy paid off, as Syracuse went 2-of-11 from downtown in the half. Keeping them in the contest, however, was sophomore Paul Harris who took advantage of open space in the Irish zone hitting a series of mid-range jumpers. Harris almost single-handedly kept the Orange alive, picking up 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field.
Notre Dame continued to find its offensive groove with a slew of outside shots. One time down the floor, the Irish settled into their half court set when Ryan Ayers drained a three to put the Irish up by six. Harris, continuing his impressive day, charged right down the court and converted on a 12-foot jump shot, putting the score at 27-23 in favor of the Irish.
McAlarney continued to heat up on the way to his record setting day at the Joyce Center. Out of a timeout, Brey drew up a play that placed the ball in the guards' hands near half court. McAlarney, known for his deep range, didn't think twice about putting up the shot, and drained it putting the Irish up 32-25.
One of the storylines during the first half of the contest was the solid contribution off of the bench from Ayers and Jonathan Peoples. Ayers not only picked up his share of points, but also helped defend the top of the key in Brey's frustrating zone. Peoples, spelling Tory Jackson who was in foul trouble, stepped up his offensive output, hitting a deep three-pointer from McAlarney putting Notre Dame up by nine. On another occasion, Peoples took an outlet pass on a fast break and finished strong with the lay up, forcing Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim to call a timeout.
"You see guys doing more, and getting confident," Brey said. "Jon Peoples' minutes were unbelievable in the first half with Tory [Jackson] in foul trouble. Luke Zeller's passing and big physical presence gets them to foul, and those three guys have been delivering for us. They're very important for us."
Syracuse guard Johnny Flynn kept pushing the tempo to bring the Orange close before the half, but his three as time expired fell short and Notre Dame went into intermission up 10 with the score at 46-36.
Coming out in the second half, one thing was clear — Jim Boeheim stressed that he wanted his team to cease the long-range jumpers and aggressively attack the paint. Flynn heeded the call, and looked to penetrate the Irish zone early and often. However, Notre Dame played excellent defense down the stretch. Highlighting the collective effort was Rob Kurz's play against Donte Green. The freshman struggled from the field finishing the day with only five points, almost 13 below his season average. The senior was also successful on the offensive side of the ball tallying 15 points, and going 2-of-4 from three-point range. Additionally, Zach Hillesland played physical below the basket swatting away three blocks.
Ayers, who finished the day with 10 points, brought the crowd of 11,418 into the game with an emphatic flush off of a Orange turnover that put the Irish up 60-47. Syracuse still did not go quietly and made several charges, although they could not get over the hump, partly because of McAlarney's record day. It seemed as though every time Harris and the rest of the Orange made a push, a three-point bomb from the junior guard crushed their hopes.
Both teams continued to exchange baskets as time began to wind down, and the Irish prevailed despite relative struggles from the free throw line. Tempers seemed to flare as Syracuse committed several harsh fouls, although the officiating crew did a superb job of controlling the game.
With the victory, Notre Dame now lies a half game out of first place in the Big East, and Brey knows what could be at stake for his squad heading into the conference championship in New York. "I framed it like this to the guys the other day, position for one of the byes," Brey said. "This is going to be an interesting stretch, and we can dream big dreams and keep working for that."