Notre Shame

Coming off of a pair of disheartening losses to conference opponents St. John's and Louisville, the Syracuse Orange looked to get back on track when they hosted the #19 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Orange—who have been plagued by turnovers, unforced errors, and generally sloppy play during the two game losing streak—entered today's game focused on righting the ship, but the game quickly devolved into a comedy of errors. After winning the opening tap, the Orange committed an unforced backcourt violation four seconds into the game that gave Notre Dame the ball. Impressive freshman big man Luke Harangody quickly scored on the ensuing possession on a nice spin move, and after a poor inbounds pass, Notre Dame stole the ball and scored again inside to give the Irish a 4-0 lead less than 30 seconds into the came.

SU countered with an Andy Rautins trifecta, but another Harangody layup drew a pair of quick substitutions from SU coach Jim Boeheim. Rautins hit another three to tie the game, and after exchanging baskets, senior forward Demetris Nichols drilled another three off of a well executed inbounds play to give the home team an 11-9 lead.

It would be Syracuse's only lead of the half.

Although the teams went into the first TV timeout tied at 11, the high powered Notre Dame offensive attack quickly got into high gear as the Irish drilled a pair of three pointers, sandwiched around an embarrassing missed dunk by Syracuse center Darryl Watkins. Another Harangody layup opened up an 8 point lead for the visitors, but Watkins redeemed himself by scoring inside on a contested jump hook to break the Syracuse drought.

Behind blistering shooting, Notre Dame opened up a 25-15 lead behind a barrage of three point shots from Colin Falls and Russell Carter. A Darryl Watkins offensive putback dunk cut the lead to 8, but the Irish responded with by nailing another three pointer that again stretched the lead into double digits.

Boeheim reinserted Josh Wright into the game, and the junior point guard quickly made his presence felt on both sides of the ball—for better or for worse. Wright scored on an acrobatic driving layup that enabled SU to creep back to within 9 by the under-12 minute timeout, and after forcing a Notre Dame miss, the Orange forced a turnover that led to a Terrance Roberts dunk. Now playing man to man defense, the Orange forced another miss, and sophomore guard Eric Devendorf found a cutting Nichols for a soft fadeaway from the top of the key that cut the lead to 28-23.

With the crowd now responding to the inspired defensive effort being put forth by the Orange, the fired up Syracuse players forced yet another miss, and Roberts found a streaking Nichols in transition for a pull up three pointer that cut the lead to 28-26, forcing a Notre Dame timeout.

Unfortunately, this was the closest that SU would get for the rest of the first half. The burly Harangody hit a jumper on ND's next possession, but Wright found Roberts on another long pass for another leak-out dunk, and the shootout was on.

Notre Dame scored the game's next several baskets, including a trio of three point shots that gave the Irish a 41-28 cushion. During this run, the patient Notre Dame players repeatedly worked the ball inside, causing the Syracuse defense to collapse, which in turn left the Irish perimeter shooters wide open for kick out passes.

Wright scored the next five points for SU on a pair of free throws and a three point shot from the top of the key, which promptly countered by a five point Notre Dame run. Nichols cut the lead to 10 [45-35] after drilling a shot from the top of the key, and a Paul Harris isolation led to an old fashioned three point attempt that was quickly answered by another Russell Carter three point shot. Amazingly, the Carter shot gave Notre Dame FIFTY points with over three minutes left to play in the first half.

SU countered with a Roberts dunk off of a nice interior feed by Harris that gave the Orange another traditional three point play, but Collin Falls drilled another trifecta seconds later which took away the Syracuse momentum and gave the Irish a 55-40 lead. A score off of a spin move by Harangody after an SU turnover opened up an even bigger Irish lead.

Just when it seemed that things couldn't get worse, SU gave up the final four points of the half on a pair of driving, completely uncontested layups by Notre Dame point guard Tory Jackson. Jackson, a mid-season starter after incumbent starter Kyle McIlarney was kicked off of the team several weeks ago, managed to juke his Orange counterpart Josh Wright out of his shoes on both plays, leading to wide open paths to the goal on both occasions.

When the halftime horn sounded, Notre Dame had registered an astonishing 61 points in the first half alone. Worse, the Irish did it on the strength of impressive shooting [56%], even more impressive three point shooting [10-17 in the first half]. Meanwhile, the Syracuse struggles continued, as the Orange committed 10 first half turnovers, leading to 19 Notre Dame points.

The Irish picked up right where they left off in the second half, registering the first four points of the second half. On the opposite side of the floor, Syracuse's first offensive possession led to an offensive foul on a moving screen. Notre Dame drilled another three point shot on the ensuing possession that increased the lead to 67-42, and the rout was seemingly on.

Nichols finally got SU on the board in the second half when he connected on a long jumper at the 18:20 mark, and after a Roberts dunk gave the Orange a traditional three point play a minute later, SU ratcheted up the defensive pressure in a desperate attempt to make a run. But the crisp Notre Dame offensive play continued, with the Irish converting a layup after a missed three point shot. After forcing an SU turnover, 7-0 sophomore center Luke Zeller drilled a three point shot that stretched the Notre Dame lead to an unbelievable 27 points, 74-47. The Irish lead climbed as high as 28 points before senior reserve Matt Gorman stopped the bleeding with an inside basket.

With the Syracuse players finally beginning to expend more effort on the defensive end, the Orange finally began to get defensive stops, but poor rebounding led to multiple second chance opportunities that prevented the home team from capitalizing. A tomahawk dunk by Roberts after a missed Devendorf three point attempt brought the listless Carrier Dome crowd to their feet for the first time since early in the game as the Orange began to make one final push.

But what transpired on the other end of the floor was a microcosm of how poorly SU played throughout the game. With the crowd now desperately seeking to aid the Orange cause, SU played outstanding defense for the entire duration of the shot clock, forcing a bad shot by Notre Dame…only to give up the offensive rebound to Harangody, who was promptly fouled by a frustrated Syracuse defender. On the ensuing inbounds play, Harangody got free and scored on a point blank layup on which he'd badly beaten his man by cutting to the basket.

Notre Dame's prolific offense came back down to earth as the Irish sought to begin milking the clock at the 10 minute mark, and when Harangody picked up his fourth foul with 8:21 left to play, SU had a final glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, sloppy passing, turnovers, and poor shooting—coupled with the Notre Dame players general outhustling of their Syracuse counterparts—prevented the Orange from mounting an effective comeback.

Even so, the Orange showed some pride by making one final run. SU scored the next six points of the game, capped by a Nichols steal / dunk at the 7 minute mark that cut the lead to 20 points. After a Watkins putback dunk 30 seconds later, the Orange converted a fast break layup after a Falls three point miss, culminating in a Harris three point play that cut the lead to 86-70 with six to play.

After forcing a Notre Dame miss, Nichols missed a three point shot from straightaway that would have brought the house down, and Notre Dame again began to maximize the full shot clock on every possession. Their patience was rewarded by drawing several Syracuse fouls over the next few possessions, and after Notre Dame hit a trio of free throws, Harris overpowered Falls in the low post for a point blank layup.

Syracuse forced another miss, and Carter committed a frustration foul that sent Josh Wright to the line at the 4:01 mark. The well-rested Wright, who'd been benched for much of the second half, drained both free throws to cut the lead to 89-74.

Nichols hit a shot in the lane on SU's next possession, and the Orange forced another turnover and foul that again sent Wright to the line at the 3:08 mark. Wright connected on the first / missed he second free throw, but chased down his own offensive rebound and scored on a baseline layup to bring Syracuse within 11 at 90-79—the closest margin of the second half.

After a Notre Dame free throw, Nichols again knocked down a mid range jumpshot in the lane that cut the lead to 10, and Boeheim quickly called timeout to help his team rest and strategize for one final push over the game's last 2:34.

Unfortunately, the Syracuse comeback attempt fell short, as the hole that the team dug itself in the first half proved to be too insurmountable to overcome. The teams traded free throws over the next several possessions, and after the Orange missing several desperation three point shots late, the Syracuse players were forced to foul in order to stop the clock.

Notre Dame continued to ride torrid free throw shooting as they began to stretch their lead at the end of the game. Nichols scored SU's next five points, and a Harris dunk with seconds remaining accounted for a final score of 103-91.

With the loss, Syracuse falls to 4-4 in the Big East Conference, after jumping out to an impressive 4-1 start in league play. Things won't get any easier as the Orange take on the DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday, February 3rd. When SU last faced DePaul [March 2, 2006], the Orange came out on the wrong side of a 108-69 drubbing—coincidentally the last time that Syracuse gave up triple digits to an opponent.

NOTES: Three Notre Dame players set career highs in tonight's game against Syracuse…Devendorf went scoreless, on 0-11 shooting against the Irish…all five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures…the Irish offensive explosion was even more impressive when you consider that Notre Dame played without starting power forward Rob Kurz, a 16 point / 8.8 rebound per game player.

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