Men’s Basketball: Orange Crushed
Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, January 22, 2012
Call Kelly Tripucka. Call Adrian Dantley. Call Digger Phelps.
The echoes have awoken.
Behind junior forward Jack Cooley’s 17 points and 10 rebounds, Notre Dame topped No. 1 Syracuse 67-58 Saturday night, its first win over the highest ranked team in the land since 1987.
“It’s a great win. We’re good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country,” Cooley said. “We just have to play like it the rest of the season.”
Notre Dame (12-8, 4-3 Big East) connected on eight of 16 attempts from three-point range in the game, neutralizing Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone defense. The Irish also outrebounded the Orange (20-1, 7-1) 38 to 25, assisted by freshman guard Pat Connaughton’s seven boards.
“I’m really proud of our group on the backboard,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We had our guards rebounding tonight. They did not help us on the boards at Rutgers and we really addressed that over the last couple days of practice.”
Notre Dame opened the game by hitting its first four shots en route to 12-3 spurt over the span of 10 minutes. The Irish shot 54 percent from the field in the first half, allowing them to eventually open up an 18-point lead. The hot shooting, coupled with Syracuse’s poor start, helped the Irish jump out to a 35-23 lead at halftime.
The Orange came out strong to start the second half, but the Irish withstood their 13-3 run that spanned halftime, responding with seven unanswered points of their own.
“I was a little concerned about our psyche [at halftime],” Brey said. “[Syracuse sophomore guard Dion] Waiters hit the two threes and they sped us up a little bit. We didn’t get a good shot at the end of half. There was a calmness about us.”
The Irish, whose offense calls for a slower tempo, controlled the pace of the game and allowed just 18 points in the paint to the Orange.
“I thought our poise was great, even when they put some pressure on us and we made some mistakes,” Brey said. “We really controlled the tempo, which was a key. To see them in the 50s scoring wise was great to see.”
Cooley benefitted from the slower pace and Syracuse’s less physical zone defense to record his fifth double-double of the year in 35 minutes of play.
“[Cooley] was just a beast on the front line, which he’s done before,” Brey said.
“Some of those plays where he ripped out loose balls and got second shots made his teammates believe even more. Our crowd loved it; it got our crowd juiced.”
The Orange took the court without sophomore center Fab Melo, who did not travel with the team due to academic reasons. The Irish held Syracuse under 60 points for the first time this season, with the Orange shooting 34 percent for the game.
Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph led the Orange with 12 points. Senior guard Scoop Jardine has held to just two points on 0-for-5 shooting.
The Irish, meanwhile, shot 50 percent from both the field and three-point range during the game. Notre Dame entered the game shooting 43 percent and 32 percent, respectively, in those categories.
“I felt that we’re a better shooting team than what our numbers said,” Brey said. “When you’re making some shots like that, it gets you believing a little bit more.”
The Irish survived a span of 7:18 in the second half in which they failed to score. Syracuse used a 9-0 run to cut the Notre Dame lead to 8, capped by a bizarre play in which Irish sophomore guard Jerian Grant scored in the wrong basket. The Orange never got closer than seven points the rest of the way, and they never led in the game.
After the game, Notre Dame’s packed student section rushed the court to celebrate the upset win. Minutes before the game ended, the aisles in the Leprechaun Legion were filled with students waiting to run onto the court.
“I thought all the work was over, and then they rushed the court,” Cooley said. “That was more tiring than half the game. The fans were phenomenal.”
A night prior to the game, Brey and the Irish coaching staff showed a video of the past Irish upsets over No. 1 squads to the current team. The win marked the sixth straight win over a No. 1 team at Purcell Pavilion.
“To be part of that history of beating [No. 1 teams], I’m very, very proud of that,” Brey said. “But I’m more proud of our guys. This is a great memory for them. But getting 10 league wins and an NCAA bid is a better memory.”
Notre Dame returns to action Wednesday when it travels to Seton Hall for a matchup with the Pirates at 8 p.m.
Contact Matthew DeFranks at email@example.com