Notre Dame looks to get first win vs. Syracuse since 2012
Alex Carson | Friday, January 20, 2017
The last time Notre Dame beat Syracuse, things were a little different at Purcell Pavilion: Demetrius Jackson was months away from committing to Notre Dame; the Irish and Orange were Big East, not ACC rivals; Eric Atkins was the starting point guard, not the video coordinator.
On Jan. 21, 2012, behind a double-double from Jack Cooley, the Irish topped No. 1 Syracuse 67-58, handing the Orange what would be their only loss of the regular season. Saturday’s showdown between No. 15 Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1 ACC) and Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) will come exactly five years to the day since that upset win.
Since, at every opportunity, the Irish have been stymied by Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone, most recently in 2015, when a top-10 Notre Dame squad fell at home, 65-60, and last season, when a Jackson-less Irish squad got beat handily on the road. But while that zone poses a unique challenge, senior guard and captain Steve Vasturia said the Irish are confident in their ability if they can manufacture good looks Saturday.
“I think we gotta just put ourselves in good positions against the zone,” Vasturia said. “Obviously, that’s what they do and they’re very good at it. I think we’re confident in the shot makers on this team. So, just getting in the right position, getting the ball to the middle, into the short corner and making shots. But they do a good job of being long and making it difficult for us.”
One of those challenges, Vasturia said, is ensuring that the Irish offense doesn’t simply pass the ball around the perimeter against the Syracuse zone.
“For me and for the other guys on the team, just making sure we’re moving and not standing still,” Vasturia said. “Obviously, you don’t have a guy chasing you around, but they’re long enough that they cover up most of the areas on the court, so just not being stagnant and continuing to cut and move without the ball, just the way we play against man [is important].”
At times this season, the Irish have deployed a 2-3 of their own defensively, and senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem said the Irish can take the knowledge they’ve learned at the defensive end and apply it to the offensive one Saturday.
“Just remembering the weak spots in our zone, the middle, baseline drive sometimes,” Beachem said. “Just stepping up and being ready to shoot open shots. I think sometimes when you’re playing against a zone or you’re playing a zone, it makes the offense tight. As long as you can play free against a zone, we’ll be fine.”
If the Irish attack the middle of that zone Saturday, Beachem said junior forward and captain Bonzie Colson may be able to exploit its weaknesses.
“They pretty much — if you get into the middle, they pretty much leave that middle man alone and make him try to make a decision, because a lot of the time it’s a big,” Beachem said. “But we have Bonzie in there, who’s a great decision-maker in the middle, so that’s gonna be a great strength for us.”
Saturday’s contest will mark a quick turnaround for the Irish, who fell on the road at No. 10 Florida State on Wednesday night, 83-80. It was an odd game — Notre Dame lost despite shooting 15-of-21 from behind the 3-point line, the Irish turned the ball over 18 times and head coach Mike Brey received a technical near the end of the first half — as the Irish concluded a three-game road trip with their first ACC loss of the season.
The strong shooting performance from deep Wednesday night could be a good omen for Notre Dame heading into Saturday: the Irish have attempted 46 3-pointers in their last two games against the Orange combined, but only connected on 13 of them.
“Hopefully we can stay that warm playing against a zone Saturday,” Beachem said.
That 18-turnover mark Saturday was Notre Dame’s highest of the season, and Vasturia noted it is an area where the Irish need to show improvement.
“We’ve gotta be better at taking care of the ball for sure,” Vasturia said. “That’s something we’ve been really good at.”
A year after making a surprise Final Four run, the Orange have struggled throughout their 2016-17 campaign — they’ve already dropped eight contests, including all four true road games, and have fallen to three teams with at least 10 losses this season: UConn, St. Johns and Boston College. Nevertheless, Beachem said he wouldn’t be shocked to see the Orange turn their fortunes around again this season.
“Even though they’ve been struggling a little bit so far this year, [I] wouldn’t be surprised if they go on another type of run like [last year],” Beachem said. “I think they may be a little longer this year, but I think some of the guys are newer to the zone. … I’m sure they’ve figured that out by now.”
For the first time since December, the Irish will play at home Saturday when school is in session — and that means a return of the students to Purcell Pavilion.
“We haven’t played in front of them in like a month, so to be back at home and playing with the Wilson ball, everyone’s excited about it,” Beachem said.
Torres’ fifth year
Brey announced that senior forward Austin Torres, who’s averaging a career-high 8.1 minutes per game, will return for a fifth year on his radio show Thursday night. The Granger, Indiana, native, who did not see the floor during his freshman year, tweeted about his return Thursday.