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Men’s Basketball

Irish collapse in second half at Syracuse

| Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Notre Dame blew a 20-point lead and the chance to climb back to .500, Saturday in a devastating 75-67 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. 

The Irish (9-11, 6-8 ACC) led 55-35 with just under 17 minutes to go, but the Orange (13-6, 7-5 ACC) stormed back midway through the second half behind a suffocating press and 20 second-half points from junior guard Buddy Boeheim to deny Notre Dame a third consecutive win at the Carrier Dome. 

Syracuse’s win was the first by the home team in the series since Notre Dame’s 84-66 victory in South Bend in 2017. Before Saturday, the away team had won the previous four matchups.

After turning the ball over just twice in the first half, the Irish committed eight turnovers after halftime. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey admitted the Irish struggled to put the memory of  blowing a large lead against Georgia Tech in early February behind them when Syracuse decided to turn up the full-court pressure. 

“I think when a team has been hurt by [the press], there’s a little bit of a mental hurdle with it,” said Brey. “And there’s a little bit of, ‘Here we go again.’” 

After a dominant first half, Brey said his team talked in the locker room about withstanding an imminent Syracuse run, but to no avail. 

“They’re too good a team, you know, we weren’t gonna win by 15,” he said. “The run was coming. And I talked to them at halftime. ‘Can we hold him off, and then make a run back?’ And we never could.”

Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish junior guard Trey Wertz dribbles to the paint during Notre Dame’s 71-61 win over Miami on Feb. 14 at home.

Notre Dame never trailed in the first half and got off to a hot start by exploiting the soft spots in the interior of the Syracuse zone. 

Graduate student forward Juwan Durham established himself in the paint early with 10 quick first-half points. The Irish found the Tampa, Florida, native inside for four big dunks and an elbow-jumper within the first seven minutes to force a Syracuse timeout with Notre Dame leading 17-9. Durham would not score for the rest of the game.

After a good game against Miami and with fellow junior guard Cormac Ryan playing reduced minutes due to injury, Trey Wertz replaced Ryan in the starting lineup and capitalized on the opportunity with 11 first-half points off a perfect 3-3 from three-point range. The second of those triples from the Santa Clara transfer capped a 13-2 run that put Notre Dame up 23-11 with 12:34 to go in the half.

The Irish shot a blistering 7-14 from beyond the arc in the first half and also impressed with their play on the interior early. Despite entering the game with a -2.3 rebounding margin, Notre Dame won the battle on the glass 20-14 and outscored the Orange 20-16 in the paint in the first twenty minutes.

Notre Dame led by as many as 18 in the first half and went into halftime up 46-32.

The hot shooting initially continued after the start of the second half. Junior forward Nate Laszewski hit back-to-back threes before Wertz added another triple to give the Irish their largest lead of the night with 16:49 to go.

Laszewski entered the game leading the Irish with 15.2 points per game but finished with only 11 points. Wertz, meanwhile, led the Irish with 17.

However, Syracuse eventually turned to their full-court press and embarked on a 29-5 run to establish a 64-60 lead with 6:53 left in the second half. Notre Dame looked helpless for long stretches against the press and turned the ball over five times in about a five-minute span midway through the half. Brey said the reason his team was unable to break the press was twofold. 

“We probably weren’t the best of receivers for the guy who was trapped,” he said. “And I think we got trapped a little bit too easy.”

Brey also said his team’s failure to capitalize offensively meant Syracuse never felt compelled to go back to their half-court defense. 

“We had some plain looks, like three-on-twos,” he said. “You got to make a couple of those when you break the press to kind of get them out of it. And we never could. And then you’re back on your heels.”

After posting a 54.5 FG% in the first half, Notre Dame shot just 32% from the floor after halftime. 

The ‘Cuse comeback intensified with just over 11 minutes to play. Buddy Boeheim hit two threes sandwiched by a traditional three-point play before sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier hit a three of his own to cut the Irish lead to one and force Brey to call a timeout with 8:30 left.

The timeout did little to stop the bleeding. Boeheim made another three with 7:36 left to give the Orange a 62-60 lead, their first of the night. Wertz’s fifth three of the afternoon with 4:20 to play cut the Syracuse lead to one, but Boeheim hit a dagger three to stretch the Orange lead to 71-63 with just 2:15 to go.

Boeheim led all scorers with 29 points and went 6-10 from beyond the arc. 

Notre Dame junior guard Prentiss Hubb was the only player on the floor to play all 40 minutes. He narrowly missed out on a double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 assists. 

With the loss, the Irish missed the chance to grab their seventh win out of their last nine games. Notre Dame will now travel to Louisville for their penultimate road game of the season Tuesday night. 

When asked about what the Irish need to do to put their second-half capitulations behind them, Brey said it was a question his team’s veterans need to answer. 

“You’d have to ask our leadership,” he said. “It’s on their a– to figure out how to bounce back and play in Louisville.” 

Brey also emphasized that Notre Dame is likely to face no reprieve from the full-court press against the Cardinals (11-5, 6-4 ACC).

“We’ll try and get our guys in better spots against the press, because Louisville will press us maybe the whole game,” he said. “And either you’re tough enough to attack it, or you’re not. It’s [a] great educational experience for young men. Either you’re gonna get over the hump, or you’re not.” 

Tip-off at the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.

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