Stifled by Syracuse: Notre Dame drops home contest to Orange, still earn double-bye in ACCs
Manuel De Jesus | Tuesday, February 24, 2015
No. 9 Notre Dame’s comeback was shot down just as quick as junior Trevor Cooney’s corner 3-point shot went through the basket with 2:09 left in the second half, and Syracuse left Purcell Pavilion with a 65-60 win Tuesday.
The Irish (24-5, ACC 12-4) struggled mightily against the Orange (18-10, ACC 9-6) 2-3 zone defense, shooting just 34.7 percent from the field and converting just three of their 22 three-point attempts. Notre Dame was ranked second in the nation in shooting efficiency and fourth in assist-turnover ratio going into the matchup. Against Syracuse, the Irish shot about 18 percent under their season average and committed 14 turnovers to 11 assists.
“Against the zone, if you have a look you have to take it,” senior guard Jerian Grant said. “Our offense usually passes up good shots for great shots, but I think against the zone you just have to take the ones that you get when you’re open.”
Grant did not shoot a field goal for the entire first half, and he finished the game with 13 points and nine assists. He came into the game 15-for-15 from the free-throw line since Notre Dame faced Duke on Feb. 7, but struggled with his free throws in the first half, hitting 2-for-4 in his first two trips. He eventually finished 9-for-12, which led the team.
“They’re long and athletic, so when you get to the basket and do attack their hands are there, so you have to kick it out for jump shots,” Grant said.
Despite senior forward Rakeem Christmas fouling out, the Orange didn’t lose a step defensively or offensively. Syracuse continued to smother the Irish with the 2-3 zone, forcing turnovers and jump shots. Offensively, three other Orange players scored in double figures. Junior guard Michael Gbinije, sophomore forward B.J Johnson and Cooney scored 12, 19 and 11 points, respectively.
Notre Dame made a run at the end of the second half, cutting the deficit to three points after Grant was fouled from beyond the arc and converted all three free throws. However, it wasn’t enough, as a mental mistake by Connaughton on the inbound pass on the next play led to Johnson scoring and getting fouled.
“That’s the way basketball is,” senior guard Pat Connaughton said. “Sometimes you lose track of guys, and it’s up to them to make the shots.”
Cooney, who is averaging 2.4 3-pointers per game, scored nine straight points for the Orange late in the second half. His biggest shot was the corner three-pointer with 2:09 left in the game. With several hands in his face, Cooney drained the shot from downtown and silenced Purcell Pavilion.
“[Cooney’s shot] was huge,” Grant said. “That’s when we were going on our run. We were ready to attack, and he hit two huge shots.”
Despite the loss, Notre Dame clinched a double-bye in the ACC tournament due to North Carolina’s loss to North Carolina State.
“Double-bye baby!” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We don’t have to play until Thursday!”
However, Brey still emphasized how important the final two games in the regular season are, regardless of the double bye.
“We have two games to improve our resume for the NCAA tournament,” Brey said. “The biggest thing [after the loss to Syracuse] is how we’ll play after a loss. We have to keep it in the now and not thinking ahead to who do we play Thursday, what seed we are, what bracket we’re in or what it means for the NCAA tournament. We gotta bounce back.”
The Irish will have a break before getting back to the court March 4, when Notre Dame travels to take on No. 17 Louisville at KFC Yum! Center.