Out of their league
Matt Lozar | Monday, January 19, 2004
Ten months removed from advancing to the Sweet 16, the Irish found out Saturday night that they are a long way from getting back to anywhere near that level.A disappointing 81-70 loss at the hands of defending national champion Syracuse showed the Irish what it takes to be considered in the class of the Big East in 2004. “I think they are that much better than us right now. I think they really are. … They are a measuring stick program in the Big East, obviously, and if you aspire to be in their territory, there they are,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We are not in their territory, not this particular team right now. They are really, really good, and we aren’t in that ballpark, and we may never be in that ballpark this season, but there are some things we can do better.”For the second straight game, an opponent dominated Notre Dame (8-5, 2-2 in the Big East) in the paint as the Orangemen outscored the Irish 46-26 from inside the lane. Every time there was a loose ball, Syracuse (13-1, 3-0) seemed to get on the floor and grab it or be one step ahead of the Irish. The loss was Notre Dame’s fifth straight to Syracuse and 10th loss in the past 11 games against the Orangemen. It was also the worst home loss in the Mike Brey era.”They kill us every time they want to,” Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas said. “I don’t know if we are scared of them. They are 10 times the team we are right now.”What got lost in Notre Dame’s third home defeat in its last four Big East home games was a career night from center Tom Timmermans. With his back finally feeling healthy enough to play major minutes, Timmermans camped at the free throw line and broke down Syracuse’s 2-3 zone with a number of no-look passes. Timmermans was able to record career highs in points (16), assists (four) and minutes (32) and tied his career high in rebounds (eight). Despite filling out the stat sheet, the senior co-captain would give it all away in a heartbeat.”Zero points and a win, I would enjoy that a lot more,” Timmermans said. “I don’t care about my points. The opportunity was there this game for me to knock down some jumpers and do some stuff, but I want to win.”Syracuse took advantage of Notre Dame’s inconsistent defense, hitting 56.5 percent of its shots compared to Notre Dame’s 41.7 percent. Forward Hakim Warrick’s game-high 19 points included a number of highlight reel dunks. Guard Billy Edelin finished with 17 points with 15 coming in the second half.The Irish put four players in double figures but received zero points from their bench. Thomas finished with 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting and only had three assists compared to four turnovers.Forward Torin Francis led the Irish with 17 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double on the season.The Irish came out hot, hitting their first three shots to build an 8-2 lead. Syracuse tied it at 10 before a 5-0 run put the Irish up 15-10.But that’s when one of Warrick’s dunks turned the whole game around, sparking a 13-0 run, which put Syracuse ahead 23-15, and the Orangemen never trailed again. The Irish were able to get as close as one five minutes into the second half.For the second time this year, the Irish find themselves in a hole. After losing three straight to start December, they responded with six consecutive victories. Combine that stretch with two tough losses last week, and the Irish have no margin for error. “The one thing I talked to them about is that this group has been kicked around a little bit already. It’s not like a first experience,” Brey said. “Resiliency is a word I used with them back at the first team meeting around Labor Day, because I was looking at our schedule, and I knew we had a heck of a schedule and we would have to bounce back.”This time, there is no American, Quinnipiac or Morehead State on the schedule. Half of their next 10 games are against ranked teams, against which the Irish, as Timmermans pointed out after the game, are 0-3.