B.J. Johnson came off the bench to lead Syracuse (18-10, 9-6) in scoring with a career-high 19 points, and Trevor Cooney hit some clutch shots late as the Orange upset the 9th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-5, 12-4) 65-60 in South Bend (Ind.) Tuesday night.
Syracuse jumped out to an early lead and held the Irish shooters at bay as they took a five point advantage into the locker room. This despite senior center Rakeem Christmas, who become the 59th player in school history to hit the 1,000 career points mark, sitting out the final several minutes of the first half with three fouls.
Notre Dame came out and quickly cut the lead to a single point, but Syracuse answered with a quick 7-0 run, capped by a Johnson three-pointer.
Syracuse kept the Irish at a comfortable distance throughout most of the second half, led by a defensive effort that held one of the top offenses in the country to arguably their worse performance of the season.
The Irish shot under 35% from the floor and made only three of their 22 three-point attempts (13.6%). The vaunted 2-3 zone also forced 14 Notre Dame turnovers.
With Syracuse holding onto an eight point lead with a little over five minutes to go, Christmas committed a foul on Notre Dame center Bonzie Colson. That was his fifth and he would sit out the remainder of the game.
The Irish quickly closed the gap to just two points, but then Trevor Cooney, fighting through a back injury, came up with a clutch three pointer as the shot clock was winding down. Moments later, Cooney drove past two defenders for a layup to extend the lead to seven with a little over one minute to go.
Syracuse would hit their free-throws down the stretch and came out with a 65-60 upset victory.
WHAT WE LIKED: Syracuse has gotten very little bench production all season. Over the last two games, Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson have given them huge sparks. Johnson finished with a career high 19 points on 7-13 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. He made several big shots and played solid defense as well. Patterson added six points and was aggressive defensively. The Orange defense was fantastic as the zone rotated, stayed at home on shooters and crashed the boards. Trevor Cooney hit several big buckets and was clutch with Christmas on the bench. Kaleb Joseph did not score much, but had four assists and did not turn it over.
WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE: Christmas did not stay out of foul trouble and missed the final several minutes of each half. Syracuse was able to hold on but it could have cost the Orange an upset victory. Tyler Roberson struggled mightily, failing to make a field goal on his four attempts.
KEY MOMENT: After Christmas fouled out and Notre Dame cut the lead to two, Syracuse ran the shot clock down and was looking for somewhere to go for offense. Trevor Cooney pulled up from four or five steps beyond the three-point line and buried a dagger that pushed the lead to five. Seconds later, after Jerian Grant missed a layup, Cooney grabbed a rebound and went to coast to coast for a layup. That gave the Orange the breathing room they needed to pull off the upset.
STATS OF THE DAY: Notre Dame's best player, Jerian Grant, finished just 2-9 from the floor and 0-6 from down town. The trio of Grant, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson were a combined 6-23 from the floor. Syracuse finished with 11 steals and forced 14 Irish turnovers. The Orange shot over 40% from the floor and out-rebounded Notre Dame 39-35.
NOTES: Syracuse is now two wins shy of extending their 20-win season streak to 18. They have three games left to play. Rakeem Christmas hit 1,000 career points, becoming the 59th player in school history to do so. B.J. Johnson’s 19 points were a career high.
UP NEXT: Syracuse will face Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, February 28th at 7:00pm.
Jim Boeheim Post-Game: