"They, are really good," Brey offered post-game. "When they're shooting that well early and you're digging out of a hole the whole game against their zone, not only is it a physical challenge but it's a mental challenge.
"We gave ourselves some chances and made some runs. But a couple of transition decisions at key times really hurt us, and a couple of (failed) block-outs on free throws really hurt us. And you can't afford to do that against them."
The Irish trailed by just two near the four-minute mark of the first half, but the Orange closed with a 9-4 run to take a 39-32 lead into the break. Both teams relied on their top scoring duos for first half production, and Syracuse received 27 of its 39 first half points from Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson while Luke Harangody and Tim Abromaitis combined for 24 of ND's 32 points at intermission.
Despite struggling to produce a run in excess of six points for the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Irish drew within two, 55-53 with two Tory Jackson free throws at the 9:47 mark, but the Orange answered the rally, with runs of 6-0 and 7-3 over the next four minutes
But the knockout blow came in a 65-second Orange possession. With 3:02 remaining and a 67-62 lead, Johnson split a pair of free throws, but Syracuse rested the rebound from the Irish and followed 32 seconds later with a dunk by Onuaku, who was fouled on the play. Onuaku missed his free throw and the Irish again failed to secure the board.
Another 32 seconds passed before Johnson hit a running jump shot to put the Irish in scramble mode, facing a deflating 10-point deficit with 1:57 remaining.
"They played like men for 40 (minutes)…we probably played like men for 32," Brey stated.
"We didn't hit the boards on the defensive end," Harangody surmised. "Their offensive boards killed us. They got three key offensive boards and that put the game away right there."
Though Notre Dame's sealed its fate with the aforementioned failure to block out on critical late free throws, the Irish actually out-rebounded the Orange on the offensive glass, holding a 16-13 edge.
"It doesn't feel like it," Harangody appropriately observed when informed of the statistic.
The Orange sealed the game in the final two minutes by defeating the Irish press with breakaway dunks and knocking down six consecutive free throws to finish the contest.
Senior point guard Tory Jackson finished with a career-best (and Big East Conference season-high) 15 assists (vs. just three turnovers), but missed each of his seven shot attempts.
"I thought they did a good job of attacking us inside," noted Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "They probably attacked us inside as well as anyone, better than most teams do against us.
"Jackson did something that nobody's ever done against this group, getting into the lane and making those passes he made...to be honest without that they would have had a tough night. He did a tremendous job.
"He got into (situations) where there was almost no room and got those passes off. That's not an easy play to make and he probably got Luke 8-10 baskets."
Johnson led the Orange with 22 points and 8 rebounds while Rautins finished with six second-half free throws and 21 points for the contest. Onuaku did the bulk of his damage in the second half, with 9 points and 6 boards (13 and 8 for the game). A career 39-percent free throw shooter, Onuaku hit 5-7 from the line in the second half.
Rautins drilled five of seven shots beyond the arc in the first half but was hounded for the game's final 20 minutes by Notre Dame's best defensive player.
"I love guarding," Jackson said of his defensive switch and effort on Rautins after intermission. "Obviously I'm not going to go out there and score 30 points, so what can I do to help my team? And guarding one of the greatest shooters out there, I wanted to take that challenge, to get him off rhythm a little bit."
Harangody led all players with 29 points and 14 rebounds, his 60th career double-double. The senior passed former Big East luminaries Malik Sealy, John Wallace, Ryan Gomes, and Bill Curley on the conference's all-time scoring list. Harangody sits at No. 8 overall with 1,189 points, just 216 shy of former Syracuse forward Lawrence Moten's (1991-95) career mark.
Junior offensive weapon Tim Abromaitis finished with 26 points (10-17 from the floor including a 5-11 effort from long range) and classmate Carleton Scott contributed 9 rebounds (6 offensive) in 19 minutes off the bench.
The 14-5 Irish (3-3 in conference play) will host struggling DePaul (0-5 in conference) on Saturday at the Purcell Pavilion.
Note: Irish Eyes will have two basketball columns Tuesday with our regular post-game player report followed by a closer look at Monday night's effort vs. the No. 5-ranked Orange.