Strong offense leads Notre Dame into clash with Syracuse
Mike Monaco | Monday, February 23, 2015
Notre Dame and Syracuse have squared off annually, often as conference foes, for nearly two consecutive decades. But for the first time since 2008, the No. 9 Irish will be the higher-ranked team when they meet unranked Syracuse on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame (24-4, 12-3 ACC) sits in sole possession of second place in the league standings behind No. 3 Virginia (25-1, 13-1) with three regular-season games remaining. The Orange (17-10, 8-6) are sixth in the ACC but will not play in the postseason this year after announcing a self-imposed ban earlier this month.
“I don’t know if they think if it’s a rivalry,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “But I think — when I got here in 2000 — any time you could have success against Syracuse it was good for your program.”
Now it’s the Irish entering as the favorite. Notre Dame is riding a three-game winning streak, capped by an 87-70 win over Boston College on Saturday in which six different players scored in double figures.
Orange head coach Jim Boeheim said this year’s Irish squad is one of the best he’s faced — and maybe the best offensively — since arriving at Syracuse in 1969.
“They shoot the ball as well as any team in the country,” Boeheim said, adding that Notre Dame has such a variety of scoring threats.
Irish freshman forward Bonzie Colson led the well-balanced scoring charge Saturday with a career-high 16 points. Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (15 points), junior forward Zach Auguste (14), senior guard Jerian Grant (10), sophomore guard Steve Vasturia (10) and sophomore forward V.J. Beachem (10) also reached double digits as Notre Dame shot 66 percent from the field, missing just six shots after halftime.
“I was really pleased with how we moved the ball in the second half,” Brey said.
Colson and Beachem — Notre Dame’s top two reserves — combined to shoot 12-for-16 from the floor.
“[Colson] has become a legitimate scoring force around the bucket and making open shots,” Brey said. “Those two guys come in and they give you some scoring punch.”
Notre Dame boasts the second-most efficient offense in the country, per Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, but will face Syracuse and its patented 2-3 zone Tuesday.
“One of the things that we try to do is not overanalyze it and make it bigger than it is and have this big mental block,” Brey said. “We try to cut and move against their zone, just like we do against man-to-man.”
Brey said Notre Dame will look to get Grant touches in the middle of the zone and still be sure to ball screen for him, as the Irish would against man-to-man defenses.
“You can talk about all the different things you want to do against the zone, but you’ve got to make some shots over the top of that thing,” Brey said. “The nights we have, we’ve had success.”
In last year’s 61-55 Syracuse win over the Irish at the Carrier Dome, Orange redshirt junior guard Trevor Cooney buried nine 3-pointers. Cooney, Syracuse’s second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game, has only connected on 32.7 percent of his 3-pointers this season and has recently been hampered by back issues. Boeheim said Cooney is sore and is struggling somewhat to move but practiced Sunday.
“I don’t see any reason he won’t be able to play,” Boeheim said. “I would think he’s going to play.”
Syracuse senior forward Rakeem Christmas is the No. 2 scorer in the ACC, averaging 18.2 points per game. The Orange fell at home 65-61 to Pittsburgh on Saturday, three days after toppling No. 17 Louisville, 69-59. Syracuse has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games.
“A couple weeks ago everybody said, ‘Well Syracuse self-imposed because they’re not going to the tournament,’” Brey said. “My feeling is they’re going to get to double-digit league wins, and I think they would have been in the tournament this year.”
Notre Dame and Syracuse tip Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.