With 6:53 left in the first half, Syracuse senior center Rakeem Christmas, the unquestioned leader of the Orange, picked up his third foul defending Steve Vasturia inside. The foul trouble was problematic as Syracuse has no depth at center and struggles offensively without their leading scorer on the floor.
Enter reserve B.J. Johnson. The true sophomore forward who had seen very little playing time since early in the season until the last few games. After a solid outing against Pittsburgh, head coach Jim Boeheim gave him a bigger role against Notre Dame.
That move would pay huge dividends over the final minutes of the first half.
With Christmas relegated to watching from the bench, Johnson gave Syracuse the offensive spark they needed as the Irish tried to close the gap entering intermission.
Johnson scored all seven of Syracuse's points during that stretch, helping keep the lead at five points. Johnson was 3-6 in that time period, snatching two rebounds as well. It was as important a stretch as he had on a night where he poured in a career high 19 points.
In the second half, Syracuse would be in a similar position over the final 5:18 of the game. Christmas picked up his fifth foul, disqualifying him from the rest of the contest.
Junior guard Trevor Cooney has been battling a bad back, which has limited the effectiveness of his outside shot. But Cooney fought through the pain and made several big plays to help the Orange secure the win.
After the Irish cut the lead to four, Trevor Cooney hit a step back, corner jumper with three defenders surrounding him to push the lead back to six.
Two minutes later, Notre Dame had cut the lead to just two points. Again, with the shock clock winding down, Cooney drilled a three-pointer several steps beyond the arc. Just 25 seconds later, after grabbing a defensive rebound, he found an opening in the lane and laid in an easy bucket.
A quick seven points that helped keep the Orange in control.
Johnson would contribute down the stretch of this half as well, scoring five points in a 12 seconds span with less than a minute to go that helped seal the victory.
On a night where Syracuse got a huge road upset, it was not the usual Rakeem Christmas leading the way. Nor was it Michael Gbinije, who had been so good over the last five or six games.
It was a hampered Trevor Cooney and a little used reserve who made key plays without their leader on the floor.